Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Missing the one and one front end that might have iced it with 1:01 left before Rob Phinisee’s Indiana trey tied it 72-72 with 48 seconds remaining , Arkansas sophomore guard Mason Jones rebounded his reprieve on Indiana’s second try at snapping the 72-72 tie, got fouled and hit the free throw with 2.5 seconds left achieving a 73-72 Arkansas Razorbacks victory.
Jones’ game-winner thrilled the 12,979 attending among the 17,456 that purchased tickets for Sunday afternoon’s ESPN nationally televised game at Walton Arena.
All nine Razorbacks played dealt a scoring hand but the biggest hand was played by their biggest man. Daniel Gafford, the 6-11 sophomore Preseason All-SEC center from El Dorado scored a career high 27 points, matched his career high 12 rebounds blocked three shots and made two steals before sophomore transfer guard Jones rebounded De’Ron Davis inside miss and drew Davis’ foul setting up the game-winner.
“Daniel Gafford was really, really tough handle for us today,” Indiana second-year Coach Archie Miller said. “He was dominant. Give Arkansas credit. They played very good today.”
Though his previous 20 points and 12 rebounds and 12 points and four rebounds performance in the loss to Texas and victory over the University of California-Davis bely it, Gafford said he didn’t play “weak” trying to force his game like his first two this season.
“This time I let the game come to me instead of just trying to take it,” Gafford said. “It just came smooth and out of nowhere.”
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson marveled at his sophomore star.
“What can you say about Daniel?” Anderson asked rhetorically. “He played his tail off on both ends of the floor starting the game off with a blocked shot that enabled us to get a basket at the other end. So a good team win.”
Truly a team with the nine used scoring from 2 to Gafford’s 27 including 13 from freshman guard Isaiah Joe of Fort Smith Northside and and Jones augmenting his 11 points with five rebounds and seven assists and zero turnovers and putting that first missed one and one in the rear view mirror to make the big one with 2.5 seconds left.
On Anderson’s instruction, Jones on purpose missed his second shot, the miss bounding around long enough for time to have expired by when Juwan Morgan’s desperation length of the court heave missed the mark.
“ He had missed a free throw,” Anderson said. “And they went down and tied it up and we had the ball and I told him, ‘It’s going to come back to you.’ He got in the mix of it and he got up there and knocked the first one down. Then timeout he missed the perfect free throw. That’s what he missed.”
But as Anderson said everyone got into the act defensively with a fatigue forcing press prying 18 Indiana turnovers to Arkansas’ 12, the game’s most compelling stat, Indiana Coach Miller said, and compensating Indiana claiming the boards, 40-32.
Offensively Arkansas sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien, 0 for 6 on previous career threes, hit the trey 25 seconds before intermission enabling Arkansas to lead, 38-35 at half.
Gafford smiled, but Jones stepped to his teammate’s defense when it was asked if the Hogs knew it was their day when Osabuohien hit that late first-half trey.
“We see Gabe hit threes in practice all the time,” Jones said.
Ditto, Anderson said, but the coach sure liked seeing that one count in a game.
“I thought one of the bigger plays right before halftime was Gabe hitting that three-point shot,” Anderson said. “I thought that kind of gave us a little lift going into halftime. Our bench was much better tonight (than the previous two games with Texas and Callifornia-Davis) and that was difference in the ballgame.”
The Razorbacks needed every shot they could hit and every play they could make given that “Indiana is a heck of a team and wouldn’t go away and will be ranked and playing in the (NCAA) Tournament,” Anderson said.
It also helped that Indiana returning star senior forward Morgan only played three first-half minutes because of foul trouble. Morgan tallied all of his 15 points and seven rebounds in the second half.
“Morgan (6-8) got in foul trouble early and I thought that was big because of the size factor with Daniel Gafford,” Anderson said. “We saw what Morgan was capable of doing in the second half.”
As for Indiana 6-6 freshman guard. forward Romeo Langford, 22 points and 10 rebounds, that’s a Romeo wherefore art though surely NBA one and done bound next season.
“The Langford kid at times we had no answer for but we wanted to make sure he worked for everything,” Anderson said. “We know he likes to get in that lane but he was knocking shots down from the perimeter.”
Langford twice brought Indiana from down 10 to lead during the second half only for Arkansas to battle back in a fierce fight to the finish.
“I can’t say enough about our guys resolve,” Anderson said. “I thought the fight which enabled them to stay in this game, not only that we didn’t panic. Indiana made a run and made plays and guess what, we answered on the other end. We made plays and we executed.”
With Sunday’s success, Arkansas advances to 2-1 and sandwiches Thursday’s Thanksgiving with Walton Arena games Wednesday night against Montana State and Friday night against the University of Texas-Arlington.
Indiana, which routed 24th-ranked Marquette its most previous game at home in Bloomington, Ind., falls to 3-1 and hosts Texas-Arlington Tuesday night.
Nate Allen Sports