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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Texas State Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, during the second half in Bud Walton Arena. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game. - Photo by Andy Shupe

Mike Anderson doesn't feel the heat.

Not during a game -- not even when his University of Arkansas Razorbacks were trailing Texas State 19-6 on Saturday -- and not between games.

After home losses to Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech, teams not as talented as the Razorbacks, some dissatisfied Hogs fans started calling radio shows and sending emails. How, in his eighth year, could Anderson be losing to inferior teams at home after leading at the half? That was the general theme.

Anderson just went about his work, ignoring the heat. That's the way he is, cool under pressure as a player and as a coach.

His teams generally get better as the season progresses, especially late in the season, and that's what he's counting on with this team that has no seniors and is filled with freshmen and sophomores.

On Saturday, when 10-1 Texas State raced out to the 13-point lead, Anderson shook his head and during a timeout explained once again how the Razorbacks could change the game.

In the final 11 minutes of the first half, the Hogs outscored the Bobcats 28-8. Mason Jones completed two three-point plays and hit a three-pointer, and Daniel Gafford started to impose his will, but it was the way the Razorbacks thrived off their defense that was impressive.

Anderson called for a full-court press, and within minutes it started to pay off on both ends of the court. The Bobcats couldn't buy a basket, and they weren't getting many tries because the Razorbacks forced nine turnovers.

The Bobcats were mentally and physically tough, and the game wasn't really decided until the final second. A third three-point play by Jones jump-started the Hogs from a 53-51 lead with 5:55 to play to a 63-53 lead after an Isaiah Joe three-pointer.

Jones finished with a game-high 21 points as the Hogs won 73-70 because their defense controlled the tempo and pushed the Bobcats deeper on their three-point attempts.

A three-point victory over a Sun Belt team, at home, doesn't seem impressive on paper, but Texas State is a disciplined team and is going to win a bunch of games this season. The Bobcats could have stole one Saturday if they could have made free throws, but they were just eight of 21.

Part of Texas State's free-throw woes was because of fatigue from fighting through the in-your-face defense the Hogs played the last 30 minutes of the game.

While it wasn't a memorable victory, it most likely was a learning experience. Not only did Jones step up, but freshman Reggie Chaney made some impressive plays off the bench.

There seems to be a strong chemistry on this team. The Razorbacks seem unselfish and focused on winning over any individual feats.

With only two more nonconference games left -- and one of those more than a month from now at Texas Tech -- the Hogs need to take another step forward because their SEC schedule is tough. They have home games against teams such as Florida, LSU and Mississippi State, who are likely NCAA Tournament teams.

All road games in the SEC are tough.

Anderson is one of a handful of coaches who has never had a losing season as a head coach, and he doesn't want to break that record this year. He knows once a team gets into the second half of a season, youth is not a reason to lose.

Saturday's win wasn't pretty, but it came from better defense at a faster pace and against a team that will challenge for the Sun Belt Conference's lone invite to the NCAA Tournament.

Sports on 12/23/2018

Print Headline: Even-keel Anderson poised to improve team

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