Midway through the second half of their first SEC road game of 2013 the Razorbacks found themselves down by 17 points to Texas A&M in a contest they would eventually lose by 18. A week and a half later at the same point against SEC co-leader Ole Miss, Arkansas was locked in a 52-52 tie game in Oxford, Mississippi.
The Rebels would go on to defeat the Hogs 76-64 but Mike Anderson was a much happier head coach afterward than he was in College Station, Texas. "I feel like we're getting closer," Anderson said referring to his team's need for a breakthrough road win in the still young conference race.
"Those guys (Ole Miss) are good," junior forward Marshawn Powell echoed. "For us to come back and tie it up in the second half like we did shows we're getting there."
Powell had been shut out on the scoreboard against the Aggies. At Ole Miss he scored 16 points and played a key role in the comeback he referred to. The difference, he said, was a matter of staying on the floor instead of the bench.
"I wasn't getting a lot of cheap fouls like I used to, like 94 feet away from the basket, " Powell observed. "But I have to pick it up a little bit more. Like doing a lot more on the glass. That should make us better."
"Marshawn is a guy we're got to go to," Anderson added. "We've got to lean on him a little bit more."
Anderson has been leaning on sophomore guard B.J. Young for points all season long. Young was perhaps the only Razorback who didn't get rattled in College Station. Oxford wasn't as kind to him.
Young scored 14 points and dished out five assists against the Rebels but he also suffered four turnovers and came up empty in several key situations where he tried to force the ball to the glass under heavy pressure.
"I thought they (Ole Miss) did a good job of compacting at the basket," Anderson said of the Rebels defense against Young. "I'm sure he wanted some things to take place that didn't take place so that's the the nature of the road."
The "things" Anderson referred to were the foul calls that didn't come as Ole Miss defenders swarmed Young almost every time he attacked the basket. Late in the game Anderson put Young on the bench as his frustrations with the officials became obvious.
"B.J.'s got to understand guys are going to be prepared for you and referees are also going to be prepared for you," Powell explained. "They're going to know your game. They're going to know if you're flopping or if you're actually getting hit or not. So you've got to adjust."
Arkansas has road games remaining against South Carolina, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Florida, LSU and Missouri. Getting both Powell and Young clicking is the starting point to winning any of those games. Getting help beyond those two players is also essential. Anderson was happy with what he got from guard Rickey Scott and forward Hunter Mickelson against Ole Miss.
Scott had nine points, two steals and four rebounds. Mickelson added 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
"I was really encouraged with his (Mickelson's) play in particular," Anderson noted. "I thought he came to play. Rickey Scott, he got in foul trouble in the first half. In the second half he came out and asserted himself."
The loss to Ole Miss dropped Arkansas' conference record to 2-2. Wednesday night the Hogs will host Mississippi State (2-2 ). Saturday afternoon they'll be in Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks (1-3).