Anderson cautiously optimistic after opening weekend

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Sunday, November 12, 2017
Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford chases the ball in the 101-73 win over Bucknell Sunday Nov. 12, 2017 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas freshman Daniel Gafford chases the ball in the 101-73 win over Bucknell Sunday Nov. 12, 2017 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson is cautious because it’s early in the season, but the first two games of the 2017-2018 campaign have gone about as well as could be expected.

Jaylen Barford had 21 of his career-high 27 points in the first half, fellow senior guard Daryl Macon scored 21 and freshmen center Daniel Gafford 15 as the Razorbacks hammered Bucknell 101-73 Sunday before a crowd of 6,477 fans at Bud Walton Arena.

Arkansas blew out Samford 95-56 on Friday night and now has two wins over two veteran teams that are expected to win their conferences and possibly be in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s early on, but we have got a chance to be a really good ball club,” Anderson said. “I don’t think we are where we are going to be as we continue to add pieces because we have got some guys that are not even out there on the floor yet and it just shows you the potential.”

Arkansas is playing without suspended senior power forwards Dustin Thomas and Arlando Cook and freshman guard Khalil Garland, but Bucknell head coach Nathan Davis has seen enough to think the Razorbacks are an NCAA Tournament team.

“Coming in we thought Arkansas had a very good team and I think they showed that they do,” Davis said. “In the first half I actually thought we didn't play that poorly. They just made a ton of shots and were able to take advantage of some of the mistakes we made, and made us pay for it.

“You watch them on film and they really, really compete. They play very hard defensively. Offensively they're extraordinarily unselfish. They keep making simple play after simple play and make you pay for mistakes.”

Bucknell (0-2) returns all five starters and its top 12 scorers from a team that won 26 games last season and lost to West Virginia 86-81 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

“Bucknell is a very good basketball team and I cautioned our guys,” Anderson said. “In the first half, we did a lot of things right, defensively, offensively and Barford just goes off.

“That is the beauty of this team here. It is a very unselfish team. The other night it was Daryl that kind of went off and our guys continued to feed him.”

Arkansas led by 22 at halftime, by 70-49 early in the second half and topped the century mark late when freshman Darious Hall roared in for a dunk and walk on Jonathan Holmes buried a 3-pointer after recovering a loose ball.

“I thought the next to the last play kind of epitomizes what took place in this game here,” Anderson said. “That was when Jonathan Holmes was out there, he deflected a pass, I think he dove on the floor, he passed it and he ended up making the shot.

“It was just that type of intensity on defense. I think it definitely got us jump-started in this game.”

Barford already had his 21 points with 3:17 left in the first half and Macon drilled a 3-pointer at the intermission buzzer as the shocked Bison retreated to the locker too down 56-34.

Barford hit 9 of his 10 first half shots and finished 10 of 15.

“I told y'all I was going to be a better shooter this year, and it was my goal,” Barford said. “It's really just putting the time in. Working every day, shooting after practice. And shooting in the summer helped out a whole lot, too.

“It's really muscle memory, I'm trying to get like (Golden State guard) Steph Curry, but I don't like Steph. So I'm going to do like Dam(ien) Lillard (from Portland). Another No. 0.”

Macon, 8 of 15 from the field with a trio of 3-pointers, was happy to help Barford get his points early.

“He was on fire,” Macon said. “He wasn't missing in the first half. So I was going to him every time until he missed. Obviously he's going to miss, he's going to do something, but he was on fire. He had an amazing game I thought.”

Barford impressed Davis, who felt his team covered the Arkansas guard well at times.

“He's a good player,” Davis said. “We knew coming in their guards were very good and could score at all three levels at an efficient rate. He made a lot of tough shots. I know he had 21 points in the first half, but on some of those shots I thought we did a really good job (on defense) and they just went in. So give him credit for being a player that stepped up and made plays.”

Davis also loved what he saw out of Macon.

“Macon is tremendous,” Davis said. “He hits threes off the dribble, he hits them off the turn. He gets in the lane, he doesn't turn the ball over. He's got to be an All-SEC player I would think. Not that I see a ton of SEC once we stop playing them, but he's good.”

Those two set the tone for an impressive opening weekend of the season.

Arkansas will return to action next Friday when it hosts Fresno State at 7 p.m before heading to Portland, Ore., for the PK80 Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend.

“We feel real comfortable,” Barford said. “We've just been putting in a lot of time, a lot of preparation. We're really excited about the season. So we're just trying to show everybody what we're about, and we haven't reached our full peak yet, I think.”


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