FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. —
Mike Anderson's honeymoon period at Arkansas might very well have come to an end after an uninspired loss at Texas A&M.
The second-year coach, however, is still holding out hope of leading the Razorbacks back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.
Arkansas (9-5, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) had won five in a row before Wednesday, when the streak came to a crashing halt in the 69-51 loss to the Aggies.
"The one thing, we're not going to panic,'' Anderson said. "I know that. I mean, if you look at the progress this team has made up until this point, we're going in the right direction. We took a step back.''
That the Razorbacks lost away from home was hardly a surprise, given they were 1-7 in SEC road games last season and have yet to win away from Bud Walton Arena this season. What was surprising was how poorly Arkansas played, scoring a season low that was more than 30 points below their average.
The Razorbacks shot a dismal 4 of 15 from the free throw line and were also outrebounded 51-27, enough to even test the patience of the level-headed Anderson - who singled out guard Mardracus Wade for not grabbing a rebound in 27 minutes of action.
"They've got to hear it loud and clear, `If you're going to be able to play, there's accountability when you're out on the floor,''' Anderson said.
Even more surprising was the performance of second-leading scorer Marshawn Powell. The junior, who was averaging 15.2 points, struggled with foul trouble in 12 minutes of action and was held scoreless for only the second time in his career.
The only other time Powell didn't score in a game was while playing only one minute against Texas Southern in 2010. His struggles away from home this season, however, have become a common occurrence.
Powell is now averaging 7.0 points in four road games, well below his overall average of 14.1. That includes a 2-point effort in a neutral-court loss to Arizona State, and the forward is now shooting just 35.1 percent (13 of 37) away from home.
Arkansas didn't make its players available to talk in advance of Saturday's home game with Vanderbilt (6-7, 0-1), but Anderson refused to call Powell's poor play away from home anything but a coincidence. Anderson said Powell must do a better job of playing through foul trouble, and he has to do a better job of giving the junior the opportunity to do so.
"He's one of our most experienced forwards on our basketball team, so I think it's going to be important,'' Anderson said. "But hopefully he'll find his stride. He's been pretty good so far this year, and now the SEC play is here, we want him to be even better.''
Anderson also refused to weigh himself down with big-picture concerns about a program that's now 15-16 in its last 31 games dating to last season. The former Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri coach preached a return to the national spotlight for Arkansas - which won the national championship in 1994 - when he was hired to replace the fired John Pelphrey.
The latest loss was a cold reminder of just much work is left to resurrect a program that hasn't made it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since 1996.
"I just think it's the mental, the mental toughness has got to get there,'' Anderson said. "We've got to be a little more mentally tougher, especially when adversity takes place.''
The Razorbacks lost nine of their final 12 games last season, missing the NCAAs for the fourth straight season. Anderson, for one, isn't about to give up just yet on a return to that level - this year or in the future.
"When we started the year, that (was) our goal and is still our goal,'' Anderson said. "I think, you know, certainly I made the statement to start the year; we want to be an elite program. We will be an elite program. And like I say, everything is a work in progress. We'll continue to work. It's going to happen.''