COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson has said many times his 2013-14 team is much different from his first two seasons with the Razorbacks.
But the Razorbacks’ run through the Southeastern Conference began in familiar fashion at Texas A&M on Wednesday night: Another loss on the road.
Arkansas’ struggles outside Bud Walton Arena continued in a 69-53 loss to the Aggies in front of an announced crowd of 5,102 in Reed Arena. The Razorbacks — who were playing their first true road game of the season — shot 36.2 percent (26.9 percent in the second half) — and watched their seven-game win streak end in a game that was eerily similar to last season’s 69-51 loss to the Aggies in the opener.
Davonte Fitzgerald led Texas A&M (10-4, 1-0 in SEC) with 17 points and Arkansas native Jamal Jones — who chose Texas A&M over the Razorbacks out of junior college last year — added 14. Ky Madden scored 12 for Arkansas. Coty Clarke had 9.
“We’re disappointed in our performance,” Anderson said. “In our locker room we’ve got some guys that are really kind of upset and mad at themselves. They had a tremendous opportunity and I just told them, ‘Let me take the blame for that guys.’”
The loss dropped the Razorbacks (11-3, 0-1 in SEC) to 2-19 in road games and 3-25 in games outside of the state of Arkansas the past three years. The only wins came at Auburn in 2012 and 2013. Anderson is now 0-5 at Reed Arena as well.
Wednesday night was particularly frustrating for the Razorbacks, who entered the game determined to turn around their road woes against a Texas A&M team that suffered a 20-point loss to North Texas in Reed Arena on Dec. 31. In fact, there were cries of “This is our house now,” from the Razorbacks as they gathered outside the locker room before taking the floor for the opening tip Wednesday night.
But the pregame attitude didn’t carry over the court, where the problems continued.
“The score was probably identical, but it wasn’t last year,” Clarke said. “We shot ourselves in the foot this game. Just not being aggressive. Being conservative. Missing easy layups.”
Anderson wanted to know how his team would respond if it was punched in the SEC opener and got to see right away. The Razorbacks missed their first five shots and fell into an early 5-0 hold. They also trailed 12-6 before and, after recovering, surrendered another 11-0 run that gave Texas A&M a 30-22 lead in the first half.
The Razorbacks managed to keep the game close in the first half, though. Madden, Anthlon Bell and Alandise Harris provided much of the punch offensively before the break. The Razorbacks had a chance to take the lead late in the half, but Bell had a 3-point shot blocked by Texas A&M guard Alex Caruso. So the Aggies led 35-33.
Then, everything unraveled for Arkansas.
The Razorbacks made an obvious effort to get forward Bobby Portis (7 points, 7 rebounds) more involved in the second half after he struggled early in his SEC debut, but the freshman missed two early shots in the paint.
Leading scorer Michael Qualls (2 points, 5 rebounds) didn’t fare much better, missing five layups in the second half en route to a 1-for-12 night.
“That’s very frustrating when you’re right there at the basket and we can’t make it,” Madden said. “But that’s a part of the game. … It’s a missed shot.”
Arkansas’ two leading scorers missed plenty of them. The duo entered the game averaging a combined 26.5 points, but finished with 9 on 4-for-22 shooting.
They played a big part in Arkansas’ ugly start to the second half, when the Razorbacks were just 2-for-13 from the field. But they weren’t alone.
“We missed a lot of layups,” Anderson said. “A lot of layups. I thought that was nerves. You saw the first part of the game Bobby missed a high-low that he normally makes 10 times out of 10. Coty missed a little chippie. Alandise had numerous shots he missed. Michael Qualls, your leading scorer, goes 1-for-12.
“You don’t shot the ball well you’re not even going to have a chance.”
Texas A&M, meanwhile, did for a few stretches in the second half to build a double-digit lead it never relinquished. The biggest stretch came during an 8-0 spurt midway through the half, which gave the Aggies a 51-39 lead with 11:37 left.
Texas A&M dictated the pace most of the night, holding the Razorbacks well below their SEC-leading scoring average of 87.2 points a game. One key reason: the Aggies turned the ball over just 11 times and didn’t allow Arkansas to get out in transition, holding the Razorbacks to just eight fast break points and 12 off turnovers.
“I’ve seen Arkansas play better,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.
“They weren’t scoring. If they can’t score, they can’t set up their press.”
Texas A&M guard Fabyon Harris said Kennedy prepared his team for the Razorbacks with rugged practices this week. Not many fouls were called as the Aggies tried to prepare for Arkansas’ in-your-face style.
“We were aware of how Arkansas was going to play,” said Harris, who scored 15 points. “We didn’t let them rattle us at all.”
It contributed to Arkansas with their lowest point total of the season.
The Razorbacks have now has lost six straight SEC road openers. The last time Arkansas won an SEC road opener came in the 2007-08 season, when the Razorbacks beat Auburn 76-70 under former coach John Pelphrey.
Arkansas also is in an early SEC hole for the second straight year after another disappointing performance. Clarke said the problems from Wednesday were “fixable,” but climbing back won’t exactly be easy. The Razorbacks’ next two games are at home against ranked teams (No. 10 Florida and No. 14 Kentucky).
“You’ve got to have a short-term memory,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to turn our attention to a good Florida team. … We’ve got to get it out of our system and flush it out real quick and get prepared.”