FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said his team’s ability to knock down three-point shots would be critical against fifth-ranked Syracuse and its zone.
A 5-for-24 performance from three-point range wasn’t what the Razorbacks were hoping for Friday night. But it wasn’t exactly their biggest problem.
It was an inability to keep Syracuse from scoring from the perimeter.
Syracuse, behind the strength of 11 three-pointers, outlasted Arkansas 91-82 in front of a white-out crowd of 19,259 in Bud Walton Arena. Senior James Southerland did most of the damage, knocking down nine three-pointers en route to a career-high 35 points. Senior Brandon Triche made the other two and finished with 17.
“Everyone was treated to a tremendous ballgame,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Unfortunately, we came up on the short end. But it wasn’t because of lack of effort. Our guys gave maximum effort.”
It was expected, considering Syracuse was the first top 10 team to play in Bud Walton Arena since second-ranked Texas in 2009-10.
Arkansas’ crowd — which was encouraged to wear white to the game — was in full force most of the night, too, fueling the big-game feel in Fayetteville.
But the Orange ruined the night by playing with plenty of poise during their first appearance in the building. The three-pointers were the biggest key, leading Syracuse to double-digit leads in the first and second half. They helped the Orange withstand multiple runs by the Razorbacks, who were led by guard B.J. Young’s 25 points.
“You’re going to get 90 points against them,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “You just have to keep them from getting 100.”
But Boeheim said it wasn’t easy to accomplish.
“This is one of the toughest buildings that I’ve seen and I’ve seen a couple,” Boeheim said. “My guys are spent. They’re about as tired as they can be. … They get after it. They did an unbelievable job of pressuring us. You’ve got to attack it and you’re going to get some open shots. It’s just a question of if you’re going to make them.”
One of the key spurts came early in the second half, when Arkansas cut Syracuse’s lead to 43-41 with two free throws by Marshawn Powell. The Orange responded with a 14-1 run fueled by two three-pointers from Southerland to take a 57-42 lead.
It still wasn’t enough to put away the Razorbacks.
Arkansas made another push midway through the second half and closed to within 59-54. Southerland had to go to the bench after picking up his second foul, too. But Triche took charge for Syracuse, scoring 10 straight to push the lead back to 13.
“Their experience showed,” Anderson said. “Look at the guys that carried them.”
Said Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell: “That’s what leaders do.”
Arkansas, meanwhile, had problems keeping pace offensively most of the night.
It began with a 7-minute stretch without a field goal in the first half. Syracuse used the cold shooting to go on a 20-3 run — most of it was which was fueled by five three-pointers from Southerland — and threatened to turn the game into a blowout.
Young did carry the Razorbacks back with a scoring spree of his own late in the half. The guard got out in transition for buckets, slipped through the Syracuse defense for layups and even knocked down the team’s only three-pointer in the first half.
He scored 15 of Arkansas’ final 21 points in the half, helping the Hogs pull to within 43-38 at the buzzer. Young finished with 19 of his 25 points in the first half.
“He did what he always does,” said Powell, who finished with 19 points. “He scores the ball. He brings a lot of energy. He is our go-to guy. He played like it (Friday).”
The problem: Arkansas couldn’t get much production offensively outside of Young and Powell, who combined to make 15 of 33 shots (45.4 percent). The rest of the Razorbacks were 9-for-29 (31 percent). Arkansas finished shooting 38.7 percent.
Arkansas has lost three straight to Arizona State, Wisconsin and Syracuse. It won’t get any easier next week, either, with a home game against Oklahoma on Tuesday and a road trip to play at No. 3 Michigan next Saturday.
But Anderson said there’s no reason to lose confidence despite the slide, believing his young team showed more growth against one of the nation’s best Friday night.
“Our guys are starting to believe in each other,” Anderson said.