Postgame Thoughts: Arkansas 98, Colorado State 74

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2018
Arkansas forward Gabe Osabuohien (22) dunks on Colorado State during an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Fort Collins, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)
Arkansas forward Gabe Osabuohien (22) dunks on Colorado State during an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Fort Collins, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/The Coloradoan via AP)

I'll be honest, I didn't expect much out of Arkansas in its season opener against Texas in El Paso. The Razorbacks played tough that night and proved me wrong.

Same thing with Indiana coming to Bud Walton Arena on Nov. 18. I wasn't sure how this young team would handle its first primetime stage at home. It more than held its own against a top-25 caliber team and picked up a key win.

Wednesday night, Arkansas blew me away with its composure, unselfishness and chemistry in a 98-74 win at Colorado State. The Razorbacks never appeared to be rattled, even when the Rams pulled within seven points after a 13-2 run early in the second half. Mike Anderson didn't like what he saw during that four-minute stretch, called time and his guys responded in a big way.

Following that timeout, Arkansas reeled off 13 straight points and pushed its lead back to 20 behind at least one score from each of its starters. If that's not the sign of a balanced team then I'm not sure what is. For the night, the Razorbacks placed six players in double figures, led by 16 points from Mason Jones, 14 each from Isaiah Joe and Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, 12 from Daniel Gafford, 11 from Reggie Chaney and 10 from Adrio Bailey.

Embery-Simpson and Chaney's contributions were massive. Chaney stood out moreso in the first half as Gafford headed to the bench with two fouls with better than eight minutes left until halftime. Chaney added nine points and five rebounds in the first half alone and sparked a 22-point surge from the Razorbacks' reserves before the break.

Embery-Simpson shot the ball with supreme confidence in this one. There was no hesitation in his jumper like we've seen in games previous. His 14 points came on 5/6 from the floor and 4/5 from deep. He was a plus-13 in 16 minutes. Gabe Osabuohien gave Arkansas a big lift, too, with five points and five rebounds in only nine minutes. One of the many highlights of the night was his shot fake on the perimeter and two-hand slam that put Arkansas up seven early on. That sequence looked like growth to me.

Another big takeaway from this win is Arkansas continues to value and share the basketball. Jalen Harris finished just a bucket shy of becoming the seventh Razorback in double figures and his second double-double of the year. He tallied a career-high 12 assists in the win against just two turnovers in 32 minutes.

As a team, Arkansas finished with 28 assists on 38 buckets and only seven turnovers. That's impressive. Four other players finished with at least three assists, including Gafford. When you take care of the ball that well, it can lead to great offense, and the Razorbacks averaged 1.361 points per possession.

Jones caught fire early on, knocking down three 3s in the first three-plus minutes of the game and Joe buried a triple in that span as well. Jones, Joe and Embery-Simpson each his four 3s in the win and Desi Sills added two more off the bench as Arkansas hit 14 and shot 50 percent from deep for the night.

Gafford got going in the second half, scoring on three straight Razorbacks possessions in a 1:10 span to put Arkansas up 22. On his second bucket, Harris did a phenomenal job looking off the help-line defender and delivered a perfect over-the-top entry. It was one of Harris' many 'wow' moments of the game.

Another thing is also true: this team can defend pretty well. On its home floor, Colorado State shot just 39 percent. More impressively, the Razorbacks limited the Rams to 10/31 on 2-point field goals – 10/21 on layups alone. Yes, Arkansas had its moments in the second half when it appeared unorganized defensively, but it gave up nothing easy around the rim.

Bailey continued to turn opponents away in the restricted area, Chaney added two more rejections of his own, including one on a Rams 3-point attempt in the closing seconds of the first half in front of Arkansas' bench, and Gafford and Jones had one each. Harris, on top of another tremendous floor game, recorded four steals, too.

So, Arkansas returns to Bud Walton Arena on Saturday against a Western Kentucky team that lost at Missouri State tonight. There's a lot to like about this team right now and now we'll see how it handles a bit of success. Following the win, the Razorbacks moved up seven spots on KenPom.com to No. 44 in the country.

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