By Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – At least for Tuesday’s first-round game of the National Invitational Tournament against the Providence Friars in Providence, R.I., the Arkansas Razorbacks bettered themselves without their best player. Arkansas start to finish popped Providence, 84-72.
Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks, advance to the NIT’s second round at 12 noon CDT this Saturday in Bloomington, Indiana against NIT top-seed Indiana, an 89-72 first-round victor Tuesday night in Bloomington over St. Francis (Pa.). Saturday’s Razorbacks vs. Indiana Hoosiers NIT game will be televised by ESPN.
Coach Ed Cooley’s Friars of the Big East finish 18-15 and never led the Razorbacks. The Razorbacks took a 6-0 lead and were up 11 (20-9) by 13:04 and up 11 at half and peaked their lead at 18 during the second half.
Anderson said it would take a committee to replace Gafford, averaging 16.9 points and 8.7 rebounds and one 29 points/16 rebounds performance among his double-doubles.
He got it with all nine players used scoring at least three in the first half including six points and five rebounds in 18 minutes from 6-8 freshman Ethan Henderson who had logged just bit parts in 10 games totaling 28 minutes previously.
“I had a saying for the guys that you are the sum all the parts,” Anderson said afterwards on the Razorbacks Radio Network. “And when you’ve got all the parts that are coming out and playing well and doing the things that they do you’ve got a chance to be pretty good. That looked like one of our basketball teams that predicated their defense and then created some easy offense for us and we did good job of really spreading the floor and taking advantage of the mismatches that we had.”
And they did it with their best player no longer playing but their bench outscoring Providence’s bench, 41-16, outrebounding Providence, 36-35 and hitting 10 of 21 threes and sinking 16 of 21 free throws.
“Having the adversity of one of your better players to not play you wondered how your guys would come out,” Anderson said. “And true to form our guys came out and they wanted to play and they didn’t want to just play, they wanted to win.”
The nine Razorbacks scored from guard Mason Jones’ 18 points to coming off a leg injury freshman guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson hitting a three on his only shot.
Shooting guard Isaiah Joe scored 12 while freshman 6-8 forward Reggie Chaney, off the bench but mostly filling Gafford’s role, scored 14 points with five rebounds and blocked seven shots, and starting 6-8 forward Gabe Osabuohien scored 11 points with a team high eight rebounds. Starting guards Desi Sills contributed eight points and three assists and seven points and six assists.
“I can’t say enough about our guys coming off the bench giving us great, great minutes,” Anderson said. “Ethan Henderson a guy who hasn’t played a whole lot. But now guess what? He stepped up tremendously for us. And how about Reggie Chaney? He was like a wrecking crew out there, dunking shots and coming up with tough, tough rebounds. Just a total, total team effort. Mason Jones gave us big minutes And (Toronto, Canada native) Gabe Osabuohien, I guess he’s close to Toronto so figured he would put it on display.”
Sophomore Osabuohien, second now as a 2-year Razorback only to junior forward Adrio Bailey and recently awarded scholarship ex-walk-on Jonathan Holmes in time spent as a Razorback, said the Razorbacks rallied around each other.
“We knew because we lost Dan that we lost a lot of points and a lot of rebounds and everybody had to step up,” Osabuohien said. “It couldn’t be just one person step up. Everyone had to step up in everything we do. And if we did that we could come out victorious.
We all had to have confidence in each other and we all had to play with energy and play together. Everything flew. Everything went well for us.”
Whenever the Friars started a semblance of a run, Arkansas answered.
“We don’t have a guy that can go get us 29 and 16,” Anderson said. “But guess what? We can have some guards go in there and get us 15 rebounds and we can have some forwards that can get us eight to nine blocked shots. We had multiple deflections and came up with a lot of 50-50 balls early on. Providence with Ed Cooley, they are not going to go away. They hung around and we had to go to the free throw line and make free throw and just make plays.”
By Nate Allen Sports