By Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Whether their stars were there to shine in November Fayetteville or their understudies stepping up Saturday in the NIT second round in Bloomington, Ind., the Arkansas Razorbacks and Indiana Hoosiers obviously remain evenly matched.
Last Nov. 18 at Walton Arena with Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford scoring 27 points with 12 rebounds and Indiana’s Romeo Langford scoring 22 points with 10 rebounds, the Razorbacks dodged the bullet of Indiana missing a layup in the final two seconds for Arkansas prevailing, 73-72.
Saturday at Indiana’s 17,000 full house attended Assembly Hall, minus Gafford declared he’s turning pro and minus Langford injured and possibly ready to turn pro, too, Indiana survived Arkansas’ Jalen Harris halfcourt shot for an overtime achieving three glancing off the mark and edged Arkansas, 63-60.
So the season ends for Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks of the SEC at 18-16 while Coach Archie Miller’s Hoosiers, 19-15 of the Big Ten, continue into the National Invitational Tournament’s third round hosting the second round winner between Clemson and Wichita State.
Arkansas led by as much as nine and Indiana as much as seven in a hotly contested game with nine lead changes.
The Hoosiers’ late game defense made the difference holding Arkansas without a field goal the final 6:58. Arkansas late-game problems were compounded by Desi Sills, just a green as grass 11-minute freshman substitute back on Nov.18 since become a starting guard and Arkansas’ top scorer with 18 points Saturday, amassing his fourth foul and 6:35 and fouling out at 4:25.
Even with Sills sidelined, the Hogs had their chances late right down to the Harris heave.
“You’ve got to be able to make some plays,” Anderson said postgame on the Razorbacks Radio Network of close but no cigar missed shots. “We had a couple of (missed) layups going down the stretch. You’ve got to make free throws and we had a couple of shots right there at the basket. We get that and I think it puts a lot of pressure on Indiana. You make those and it’s a 1-point game and maybe an and-one. I thought even the halfcourt shot – we have been working on it all year long — we gave ourselves a chance. I was proud of the guys’ effort. I thought they gave maximum effort.”
Sills hit 6 of 11 from the field including 4 of 6 treys with the 3-point moved out to 22 feet as part of various rules experimented incorporated into the NIT
Freshman guard Isiah Joe of Fort Smith Northside, 12 points, including 3 of 9 treys while 0 for 3 inside the arc, was Arkansas’ lone other double-figures scorer than Jonesboro’s Sills.
Sophomore point guard Harris, seven assists against one turnover, and junior forward Adrio Bailey each scored eight for Arkansas.
Minus 6-11 Gafford, the Razorbacks were expected to have problems against Indiana All-Big Ten senior forward Juwan Morgan.
They did have problems but no larger than in Fayetteville. Morgan’s 15 point and seven rebounds exactly matched his 15 and 7 against Arkansas in Bloomington.
“ I thought we did a good job of making Morgan work for everything he got,” Anderson said. “ I thought they (unheralded Arkansas forwards Bailey, Gabe Osabuohien, Reggie Chaney and Ethan Henderson) did a good job. I really did. We made them change some shots and we even got the loose balls and rebounds. We matched their physicality and that’s what you’ve got to do in a game of those sort. I thought in the second half we were really coming out ready to impose our will. But we had some breakdowns where those turnovers turned into easy opportunities for them. But for the most part it was hard-fought game by two teams that knew each other a little bit.”
One Hoosier the Hogs didn’t know from November marched Indiana by Arkansas in March.
Junior guard Devonte Green was injured and didn’t play against Arkansas in Fayetteville. He started Saturday and double-doubled with 18 points, matching Sills for game-high, and a game-leading 11 rebounds.
“The Green kid, he didn’t play the last game and I thought he was really big today,” Anderson said.
Considering the turn of events starting with laying a 66-50 losing egg to Florida for a first-round exit in the SEC Tournament following by Gafford, who easily could have turned pro after the 2017-2018 season, deciding to turn pro now, the NIT became a positive Arkansas experience.
The young with just one junior and no senior Razorbacks thumped the favored Providence Friars, 84-72 in Providence, R.I. for Arkansas’ NIT first round and first life after Gafford experience and again played to the wire the Hoosier whom they will meet against next season in Bloomington completing their contracted home and home series.
“With all the adversity that has taken place with this team, I think they hung in there together,” Anderson said. “I think for Razorback Nation, you can be proud of these guys. We’ll add some more pieces but I like what we’ve got. I think we’ve got a chance to have a great offseason and get prepared to turn it up another notch.”
By Nate Allen Sports