Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Nailed on the boards and its best shooter foul-troubled, Arkansas needed help from an unexpected source to stave off the experienced Austin Peay University Governors.
The Razorbacks got it. Averaging just 3.8 points, Arkansas freshman reserve guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson scored all 14 of his season-high matching points during Arkansas’ 20-5 second half run propelling the Razorbacks to a 76-65 victory Friday night at Walton Arena despite Austin Peay leading 52-48 with 11:05 left.
“I felt like that stretch he was the difference-maker,” Austin Peay Coach Matt Figger said. “He only played 13 minutes, but you score 14 in 13, that’s a pretty good number. I thought he was the difference in that stretch in the game. He was everywhere.”
Just doing what Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson asked, Embery-Simpson said.
“Coach says whenever your jersey number is called just be ready,” Embery-Simpson, a native of Midwest City, Okla., said. “So that’s what I was doing, coming in confident and aggressive on both ends.”
After Embery-Simpson tied 52-52 from the baseline, a thunder dunk by sophomore center Daniel Gafford of El Dorado off a Reggie Chaney feed put Arkansas up, irrevocably it turned out, 54-52, at 8:21.
Embery-Simpson then embarked on a spree, including two threes, that carried Anderson’s Razorbacks to a 9-3 record in their final nonconference game before their Jan. 5 start of the SEC season at Texas A&M.
“I always tell our guys ‘Be ready!” Anderson said. “And Keyshawn goes on a run by himself.”
Well, not exactly by himself.
Arkansas’ bench, with reserve freshman forward Reggie Chaney scoring 12, freshman reserve guard Jordan Phillips scoring four and and sophomore reserve forward Gabe Osabuohien scoring one, added to Embery-Simpson’s 14, scored 31 points. Though he didn’t score, freshman reserve guard Desi Sills of Jonesboro contributed five assists, two steals and three rebounds in 24 minutes as foul trouble limited freshman starting guard Isaiah Joe to 21 minutes.
“ I was proud of the effort of the guys coming off the bench,” Anderson said. “They were the difference in the game.”
Then Hogs needed that and Joe’s 12 points first-half and finishing with 15 and big night from 6-11 Gafford, double-doubling with a game-high 16 points and 10 rebounds, to hold off the veteran Governors starting four seniors and a sophomore, Terry Taylor who was last season’s Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year. Austin Peay had won six straight before falling Friday to 8-5.
“Matt Figger has a very good Austin Peay basketball team,” Anderson said. “A very experienced team and you could see that. First half I thought the rhythm game was to their favor and they out-hustled us to some loose balls. In the second half we had some guys come off the bench and give us some big, big minutes.”
That included some big rebounds at the end finally reducing the Governors well into double-digits lead on the boards to 42-34 for APU’s final rebounding advantage.
“One thing we have to continue to address is rebounding the basketball,” Anderson said. “We make teams take difficult shots but we’ve got to come up with those rebounds.”
Previously slumping Arkansas junior starting forward Adrio Bailey gave Arkansas an early second-half spurt with two dunks and a free throw from 19:30 to 18:29 before benched with his third foul.
Starting point guard Jalen Harris dished seven assists and hit a big three with 1:47 left when the Hogs needed it advancing a 6-point lead to nine.
“That was the dagger,” Figger said,
Guard Steve Harris led the Governors with 15 points.
Taylor, APU’s leading scorer averaging 17.8 points, only scored eight but was a 6-5, 230 bear on the boards with 10 rebounds.
Off the bench, forward Jabari McGehee, APU’s tallest player at 6-7, and guard Dayton Gumm scored 10 each.
Arkansas never fell into the during the first-half deep hole of some recent games but never could stretch a major lead on the Governors.
In turn the Governors never could stretch a major lead on Arkansas before Arkansas finished up 34-33 at intermission.
A 7-2 lead was the most that Arkansas could muster.
Upon gaining the lead, a 4-point lead was the most that the Governors could mount.
Arkansas freshman reserve Phillips broke a 30-30 tie for a 32-30 lead at 1:30.
Chris Porter-Bunton’s 3 gave Austin Peay its last first-half lead, 33-32 before Phillips tallied twice more sinking both ends of a one-and-one with 48 seconds left.
Jalen Harris missed extending the halftime lead failing to hit two free throws
with four seconds left. He made up for it, defying at 1:47 his previous 2 of 25 3-point shooting with “the dagger” cutting Austin Peay’s last hope.
Editor’s Note: SWARK Today is proud to present post-game coverage of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks athletics through the highly respected Nate Allen Sports Service of Fayetteville. SWARK Today is your local source for Razorback sports for the 2018-19 men’s and women’s basketball seasons.