OPINION | WALLY HALL: Second half should prove a learning lesson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- At the half, it appeared Arkansas was going to stroll into day's semifinals of the SEC Tournament.

Appearances were deceiving.

The Razorbacks led 38-25 at intermission. They had blocked nine shots and had five steals, and Texas A&M was looking like a one-and-done on both ends of the court.

In the first 11 minutes of the second half, the Hogs were outscored 25-9 en route to a 67-61 loss to the Aggies.

Yes, free throws made a difference.

In the end, though, A&M shot just five more than Arkansas, 24-19, but the Aggies made 18, and getting to the free-throw line is part of the Aggies' game plan. It is why they lead the SEC in attempts and makes.

It is why they could go 1 of 10 on three-pointers, while the Hogs were 5 of 20, and win.

Still, when Jordan Walsh's desperation heave as time ran out on the first half banked in, it looked like it was going to be a Razorback March.

The talk at the half among the media was how dominant the Razorbacks had been.

For the final 20 minutes, it was role reversal, and the Aggies were the aggressors. They crashed the boards the entire game and ended up with a 43-26 advantage. They had 15 second-chance points to Arkansas' 9, and there's your six-point difference as much as six more made free throws.

The Razorbacks struggled offensively in the second half, as A&M's defense held them to 9 of 30 from the field, and no team is going to win many SEC games with just 23 points in a half.

The only Hogs to shoot better than .500 from the floor were the Mitchell twins, and they were a combined 8 of 8 with Makhi leading the way with 6 of 6 and 15 points.

The only other Razorback in double figures was Nick Smith Jr., who had 16 points, 13 in the first half, and it was obvious in the second half he got most of the Aggies' defensive attention, which meant no open looks.

A&M's man-to-man defense was so good in the last 20 minutes it forced the Razorbacks into taking bad shots and those rarely go in.

The loss may sting a bit, but when the NCAA Tournament field is announced Sunday it will be forgotten, and all thoughts will be about their first-round match-up.

The Hogs went into Friday night's game with a NCAA NET ranking of No. 20, and while that system is obviously flawed, it is still the only ranking the selection committee uses.

It most likely will be tweaked after this NCAA Tournament because after beating Auburn, the Razorbacks dropped two spots.

Wait, it gets better. The Aggies closed the regular season with a win over Alabama, who will be a No. 1 seed in the big dance, and they dropped a spot in the rankings but the Tide stayed No. 2.

For now, though, a No. 20 ranking should make the Razorbacks a No. 9 seed.

Until Sunday, the talk will be on how A&M shot more free throws in the second half, but the issue there is the Aggies made 75% and the Hogs just 63.2 percent.

It wasn't about coaching, it was about execution on both ends of the court.

The Aggies scored 36 points in the paint, and those are generally high percentage shots. They crashed the boards, and those are statistics that can't be ignored and no doubt something Eric Musselman will point out to his team.

Before the sun sets today, he will be gathering information on every potential opponent the Razorbacks might face, and when the pairings are announced, the team will celebrate for a few minutes and he'll put them back to work.

Friday night when A&M dictated the tempo for the final 20 minutes and forced it into a slower game will be a hard-learned lesson.