Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas started abominably again but this time finished with a flourish to beat Missouri, 72-60 late Wednesday night at Walton Arena.
Breaking their 4-game SEC free fall which appeared headed for a fifth straight defeat starting in a 12-2 hole deepened to down 17-4, the Razorbacks rallied to trail just 34-32 at half. Then after quickly taking a second-half lead they only once relinquished briefly, though then mostly jus barely keeping the Missouri Tigers at bay, the Razorbacks ran away with the game. In the last 4:27 Arkansas upped a 59-58 lead to the 72-60 SEC victory.
A Daniel Gafford dunk from a Reggie Chaney feed at 3:57 and dagger thrusting three for a 64-59 lead at 3:04 by Arkansas freshman and Fort Smith Northside alum Isaiah Joe sped Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks to breaking their four-game skid and up their records to 11-7 overall and 2-4 in the SEC heading into Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge game against the 14th-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock, Texas.
Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Mizzou Tigers, coming off a 66-43 SEC victory at Texas A&M, fall to 10-7, 1-4 in the SEC and host LSU in a SEC game Saturday night in Columbia, Mo.
Freshman guard Joe led all scorers with 23 points including nailing 7 of 12 treys.
Arkansas sophomore center Gafford double-doubled with 13 points and 10 rebounds while sophomore point guard Jalen Harris scored 10 with six assists and “took charge,” Anderson said.
Gafford’s eighth double-double of the season was well earned, Anderson said.
“We actually started force-feeding into Dan and you saw him go up and score some baskets with two and three people around him,” Anderson said. “It tells you what kind of player Dan is. He gets a double-double when they are really throwing people at him.”
Arkansas starting guard Mason Jones only hit 2 of 10 shots but his two threes proved timely while guards Keyshawn Embery-Simpson and Desi Sills, forwards Reggie Chaney and Gabe Osabuohien played big off the Arkansas bench.
On a night when Mizzou mainstays Jordan Geist only scored seven points and big man Jeremiah Tilmon, nine points and five rebounds fouled out while Gafford played 35 minutes without committing a foul, guard Mark Smith led the Tigers scoring 22 including 6 of 11 threes.
“Smith kept them in it,” Anderson said.
Smith’s sharp shooting couldn’t overcome the Razorbacks forcing 24 Missouri turnovers. Arkansas committed 14 but only five in the second half with a 27-14 points off turnovers the turnaround key, Anderson asserted starting with Sills, Embery-Simpson, Chaney and Osabuohien off the first half bench when the Hogs trailed badly.
“Thank goodness for our bench,” Anderson said. “Desi. Keyshawn Embery, Gabe came off the bench. Reggie Chaney came off the bench . I thought those guys really kind of changed the tempo defensively. Just really getting after it, getting in lanes and getting steals and getting to the basket and getting to our defense. To me I thought that was critical getting us back in the game. The tempo was created by our defense.”
And from there those misfired shots started hitting home.
“We created offense with our defense and we were able to score and get some easy opportunities, some layups,” Anderson said. “And before you know we kind of broke the ice.”
Mizzou still skated right behind Arkansas until falling in the ice that Arkansas broke with its flourishing finish.
“We talk about a game of runs,” Anderson said. “You never know when it’s going to come but it came right there. With 4:27 to go it’s a 1-point game and our defense kicked in and and our offense kicked in and you could see our guys were engaged and played with that intensity I’ve been looking for.”
Even while combining for 36 points, Joe and Gafford also talked defense.
“We got back to playing that defense that we played at the beginning of the year,” Gafford said. “Then we were not letting people run their offense and certain things like that.”
Joe, with Mizzou Coach Cuonzo Martin concurring, said Arkansas’ pressure compelled the Tigers to play faster than they preferred.
“That’s Hog basketball right there,” Joe said. “Speeding them up, making them force turnovers and getting points off of them. That’s part of the Fastest 40.”
On the heels of their disastrous starts in last week’s lopsided road losses to Tennessee and Ole Miss, and the home SEC losses to Florida and LSU made close after staggering starts, what did they think starting down 17-4?
“We’ve just got to focus in and stay together as a team and be strong,” Joe said. “We’ve been down in situations like this before and came back, so we knew we could bounce back. We just needed to start it on the defensive end and that’s what we did.”
Nate Allen Sports