3-point defense could be key for MU vs. Arkansas

Missouri’s Earnest Ross goes to the basket as Bobby Portis of Arkansas defends during the Tigers’ 75-71 win against the Razorbacks last month in Fayetteville, Ark.

Missouri’s Earnest Ross goes to the basket as Bobby Portis of Arkansas defends during the Tigers’ 75-71 win against the Razorbacks last month in Fayetteville, Ark. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — As good as the Missouri Tigers have been at knocking down the 3-point shot in Southeastern Conference play, they’ve been equally as poor in defending it.

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Mizzou Network: Frank Haith previews Arkansas game

Missouri connects on 37.8 percent of its 3s in conference play, good for second in the league. The Tigers, however, allow opponents to hit 37.7 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc in league games, which ranks dead last.

That will be among the challenges Missouri (16-7, 4-6 SEC) faces when it hosts Arkansas (15-8, 4-6 SEC) at 6 p.m. today (ESPN2-TV) at Mizzou Arena.

“It’s just disappointing that people are shooting at a higher level,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said, referencing better perimeter defense in the non-conference. On the season, Tiger foes have connected on just 32.3 percent of their long-range shots. “I think part of it is the teams we’re playing, No. 1. But we’re to be blamed as far as how we’re closing out, how we’re affecting shooters. We have to get better at that.”

Arkansas hit 12 3-pointers when the teams met Jan. 28 in Fayetteville, Ark, a 75-71 win for Missouri. The Razorbacks went 10-of-16 from beyond the arc in picking up their first road win of the season Saturday at Vanderbilt. Arkansas hits 36.1 percent of its 3s on the season. Missouri allowed Mississippi to connect on 14-of-29 attempts during a 91-88 loss Saturday, as Marshall Henderson went 10-of-18 alone.

“We have to guard the 3-point line a little bit better than we have been, and that’s something we haven’t done, but we’re going to have to do it against Arkansas,” Haith said.

It’s not just the 3-point defense, Missouri hasn’t had much success stopping anything in league play. The Tigers allow a league-worst 109.5 points per 100 possessions in SEC games.

The 91 points the Tigers allowed against Mississippi represents the most in Frank Haith’s three-year tenure. That loss marked three straight for Missouri, leaving the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy.

“We’ve got to get back on the wining track,” Haith said. “We’ve had a tough go of it the last three games.”

Tonight represents an opportunity for two teams desperate for a quality win.

“The games continue to get bigger,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “We’re playing against a Missouri team we played earlier in the season. They did what they had to do to steal a win. Their guards are really dynamic. (Jabari) Brown and (Jordan) Clarkson and of course (Earnest) Ross. I thought the guys that keyed their win here was the the big guys —(Johnathan) Williams and (Ryan) Rosburg — they did a good job of really controlling the boards. It’s going to be a big game. Obviously they play well at home but hopefully we go in and do the things we have to do to steal one back.”

Williams (12 rebounds) and Rosburg (nine) played a major role in handing Missouri a 42-26 edge in rebounding in the first meeting.

Arkansas might be in a better position to “steal one back” than at any other point this season. Coming off its first road win of the season, the Razorbacks are riding high.

“You hope the experience is your greatest teacher,” Anderson said. “And we’ve been playing pretty good. Our guys have been competitive, we just didn’t get over the hump. … Once you get over that hurdle hopefully it instills some confidence.”

Haith believes that will be the case.

“I’m sure it was great confidence boost for those guys,” he said. “They’re a talented team. They’ve had great play out of Bobby Portis. Their talent level is at a high level. I’m sure we’re going to get a very confident Arkansas team coming in here on Thursday.”

Arkansas continues to be one of the nation’s best teams at forcing turnovers. The Razorbacks force them during 24.1 percent of their opponents’ possessions, a number that ranks fifth in the nation. Missouri coughed the ball up 19 times in the first meeting.

“I think we had some live-ball turnovers and that’s one of the things you don’t want to have against them,” Haith said. “We didn’t have many but they did convert the ones we did have to points on the other end. I know they had two alley-oop dunks in that game. That’s going to be the key. There’s some givens when you play Arkansas. You can’t have live-ball turnovers. Our ability to continue to meet passes and make good passes and make good decisions, that’s going to be important in that ball game.

“They typically press more at home than they do on the road. But I don’t know, I think they could come after us. Jordan was outstanding down the stretch in that game. He made really good decisions. He went from being a scorer to being a really good playmaker. I think he only had 11 points in that ball game, but I think he had six assists and a couple big ones down the stretch”

Portis, a 6-foot-10 freshman, continues to lead Arkansas with 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Rashad Madden adds 12.7 points while Michael Qualls chips in with 11.5 ppg off the bench. The Razorbacks average exactly 81 points per contest, good for 20th in the nation.

Brown tops Missouri with 20.1 ppg, just a smidge behind Auburn’s Chris Denson (20.2 ppg) for the league’s scoring title leader. Clarkson adds 18.9 ppg while Earnest Ross sits at 14.1 ppg.

Missouri is 11-8 at home against Arkansas all-time, having won the past two at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers are 10-2 at home this season.

“We’re usually pretty good in this building so hopefully we can continue that,” Brown said.

Related video:

Mizzou Network: Frank Haith previews Arkansas game

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