Man down; zone in: Hogs erase deficits by switching defense

Posted: February 17, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell, right, drives to the hoop against Arkansas guard Dusty Hannahs (3) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Columbia, S.C. Arkansas defeated South Carolina 83-76. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Jaylen Barford and Dusty Hannahs shot Arkansas back into the lead after facing an early 14-point deficit Wednesday at No. 21 South Carolina.

Yet the Razorbacks' 53.6 percent shooting overall and their 50 percent rate from three-point range would not have been enough for Arkansas to seize an 83-76 road victory without a key adjustment on the other end of the floor.

The Gamecocks diced Arkansas' man-to-man defense in the early going with three dunks, two layups and a pair of three-pointers as part of their 19-5 head start.

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson, who had seen South Carolina open 8-of-11 shooting with a 9-1 rebounding edge, called for a zone.

The difference was immediate.

South Carolina missed 12 of its next 13 shots, Arkansas toughened up on the boards, and the Hogs embarked on a 25-2 run by making 10 of 13 shots.

"As I've said, I'm not married to any system, I'm married to winning," Anderson said. "When they took the lead, I thought they spread us, they were attacking us. I thought they were really attacking the glass.

"Once we got into our zone, I thought it connected us on defense. We were talking. We were active. That's the most active we've been in it, I think."

South Carolina made adjustments, using overload sets to help free up wing shooters and running personnel along the baseline to attack the bottom of the zone. But the Gamecocks never could get over the hump.

South Carolina pulled even at 30-30 late in the first half and got within one point three times in the second half, but it never regained the lead.

Arkansas did not make use of its full-court pressure and stayed in the zone essentially for the rest of the game.

"We like to be unpredictable with everything we do, especially our defense," senior guard Manny Watkins said. "Our zone is never a zone to slow the game down or a resting zone. We're active in the zone.

"The zone was working, and we just played hard out of it. When you do that, you can get multiple stops."

Guard Dusty Hannahs said what Arkansas runs is not a normal zone.

"We're getting after it," Hannahs said. "We caused them to take some contested three-pointers and kind of clogged up the lane, and it made them struggle trying to score the ball against us."

The Razorbacks went 2-0 on the road trip by getting great mileage from the zone defense. Arkansas trailed LSU 40-31 at halftime Saturday before Anderson implemented zone calls almost exclusively in the second half to rally for a 78-70 victory.

"The zone really had a big effect," Arkansas guard Daryl Macon said Saturday. "We made them shoot from the outside. It wasn't like the first half where they were getting wide-open dunks and layups."

Added Hannahs, "Especially in the second half we weren't giving up anything easy around the rim. It seemed like they were struggling to even hit easy twos by the rim. We were attacking every play on defense and being aggressive, deflecting balls."

The zone defense makes it harder for penetrating guards to get all the way to the rim, which South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell managed a few times Wednesday, and reduces the risk of rotation problems that can break down the defense.

A critical facet of the zone is rebounding efficiently. Arkansas managed to do it at South Carolina, rallying from the minus-8 rebound margin early to a plus-1 for the game.

"It's all about guys playing it with the intensity, anticipation, making teams shoot tough shots," Anderson said. "Building a wall as guys penetrate in there and rebounding. If you can rebound out of it, you can run out of it.

"We did a good job of disrupting them, and even made the adjustment as they tried to overload it. When something's working, you just kind of stay with it. My guys, they were playing it with a lot of confidence.

"They weren't making many outside shots. You don't have to be that smart to understand that. Let's go play a little zone."

Sports on 02/17/2017