Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Down only 38-37 at half against the Texas A&M Aggies, Arkansas opened the second half committing two turnovers that Wendell Mitchell converted to A&M baskets.
From those miscues the Razorbacks never quite recovered.
Though twice drawing to within a point and only trailing 67-64 with 4:42 left, the Razorbacks never could get the stop or the bucket they needed to get over the hump then faded during an Aggies 10-2 run eventually to lose 87-80 in Saturday night’s SEC game at Walton Arena.
Though his game leading 23 points, 16 in the second half, and game-leading 13 rebounds, would seem to belie it on his account, Arkansas sophomore center Daniel Gafford said the Aggies showed more want-to when it counted.
“Basically at the end of the game we let go of the rope,” Gafford said. “Simple as that. They were coming down and executing everything that they could, they were getting stops on defense, we were turning the ball over. We were trying to fight back but they fought harder. They just came out and did what they had to do.”
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson viewed the finish with similar dismay.
The loss marks Arkansas’ fifth consecutive defeat dropping the Razorbacks to 14-13 overall. 5-9 in the SEC heading into Tuesday night’s SEC game at Kentucky.
“Going down the stretch when they had to make plays, you’d see them getting the loose balls and tips in,” Anderson said. “So the game was won in the paint. You are talking about the free throw line (A&M was 25 of 34 to Arkansas’ 15 of 21) and rebounding (A&M cleaned the boards 35-25) Just played a little more tougher I think than us. But we had chances, it was a 2-point game and we got the basketball and obviously you’ve got to execute.”
Turnovers should have been markedly in Arkansas’ favor, committing 12 to A&M’s 18, but the points off turnovers Arkansas only led, 20-19.
Those consecutive ones to start the second half with Aggies baskets and consecutive ones after Arkansas cut it it two late proved devastating.
“We didn’t make the plays going down the stretch,” Anderson said. “We had back to back turnovers and it’s a 2-point game and now we’re down seven. And we had some shots that didn’t go in. Mason (Jones) had a good look and I think Isaiah (Joe) had a good look (on late shots that could have kept Arkansas in it) and they (A&M) are turning those turnovers into easy offense for them with layups.”
Joe, the freshman starting guard and Fort Smith Northside alum, did score 20 points while normally starting sophomore guard Jones scored 11 off the bench.
Coach Billy Kennedy’s Aggies, beaten 73-71 by Arkansas back on the Jan. 5 SEC season opener in College Station, Texas, but markedly improved, Anderson said, are 12-14, 5-9 in the SEC going into their Tuesday night SEC visit to LSU. Kennedy’s Aggies become the latest of six teams this season soiling what traditionally has been Arkansas’ well nigh invincible Walton home court advantage.
“ It’s nice to finally get a win here,” Kennedy said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for the Arkansas program and what they’ve been able to do here at home. I’m just proud of our guys because it wasn’t a pretty game but I thought we figured out a way to win. We made enough plays in that stretch to pull away in the second half and that was critical.”
Anderson had reestablished the Walton home court advantage he was a part of as an assistant to Nolan Richardson and anguishes at its lapse.
“I always talk about that this is one of the places that people come here thinking they don’t have a chance,” Anderson said. “So I’m disappointed. I really, really am. Our fans have been fantastic.. They were great tonight just trying to will this basketball team. Sometimes these guys (players and himself, too he said) have to look in the mirror.”
Mitchell, shaking off amassing his fourth foul early in the second half, was most instrumental with the buckets fending off Arkansas when the Hogs would come close He scored 20 in 20 minutes before fouling out.
A&M forward Savion Flagg, 20 points and 15 rebounds on Arkansas in College Station, erupted again Saturday nearly double-doubling again with 22 points and nine rebounds.
Reserve forward Josh Nebo, big in A&M’s Saturday first half, scored 14 off the bench.
A&M guard TJ. Starks tallied 12 of his 14 off the bench points in the second half as A&M made 16 of 24 second-half shots.
“Flagg made some big, big shots for them,” Anderson said. “And of course we already know that Starks is a good player. But the big guy for them tonight I thought was the Mitchell kid.”
Gafford tried to keep Arkansas in it scoring 16 of his 23 points in the second half and grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking three shots.
Freshman guard and Fort Smith Northside alum Joe, tallied 20 including 8 of 9 free throws while sophomore guard Mason Jones, displaced in the starting lineup, scored all 11 of his points in the second half.
Anderson and Gafford did say promoted from bench to starters freshman Desi Sills at guard and sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien brought the game opening energy, Sills accounted for a 5-0 lead, that was requested.
“The new starters were great tonight,” Gafford said. “We came out with way better energy than we’ve played with in any other game in awhile.”
An unevenly played yet nearly evenly ended Texas A&M 38-37 first half likely had both teams nearly evenly bewildered.
Presumably the Aggies thought they would be leading by more than one outrebounding Arkansas, 21-11 for the first 20 minutes plus Arkansas suffering one of its recently dreaded droughts during a 14-2 Aggies run for a 36-28 A&M lead.
Meanwhile the Razorbacks, forcing an early 10 of A&M’s 11 first-half turnovers outscoring the Aggies, 15-4 on first-half miscues.
The Aggies appeared on the verge of throwing a first-half knockout punch until Joe delivered a just before shot-clock expiring 3-pointer
Consecutive 2 for 2 free throws by Joe, Gafford and Joe again had the Hogs up 37-36 with 20 seconds left.
A&M retook the lead, 38-37 three seconds before intermission.
Then Arkansas gifted A&M those four points to start the second half and never caught up.
Nate Allen Sports