SEC MEN’S BASKETBALL: ARKANSAS 94, NO. 21 TEXAS A&M 75:

Different Daniel: ‘Punked’ Gafford responds to Aggies

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, February 18, 2018
Arkansas' Daniel Gafford (below) wrestles Texas A&M's Tyler Davis for possession during a game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas' Daniel Gafford (below) wrestles Texas A&M's Tyler Davis for possession during a game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Daniel Gafford was ready for Texas A&M this time.

Gafford, a 6-11 freshman from El Dorado, had 18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and 2 assists in 28 minutes to help the Arkansas Razorbacks to a 94-75 victory over the No. 21 Aggies on Saturday before an announced crowd of 18,097 in Walton Arena.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (19-8, 8-6 SEC) won its fourth consecutive game and earned a split with Texas A&M (17-10, 6-8) after the Aggies beat the Razorbacks 80-66 in Reed Arena on Jan. 30.

Gafford struggled with early foul problems in that game -- he picked up two fouls by the 15:31 mark of the first half -- and had 5 points, 4 rebounds and 1 blocked shot in 20 minutes against the Aggies' 6-10 trio of Tyler Davis, Robert Williams and Tonny Trocha-Morelos.

"Pretty much I got punked when we went down to Texas A&M," Gafford said. "I didn't want that to happen today."

Gafford scored Arkansas' first basket on a baseline jump shot and stayed hot. He finished 7 of 8 from the field and hit 4 of 6 free throws.

"He was much more aggressive, and not being in foul trouble he showed his talent," Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said of Gafford's improvement against the Aggies. "That's why he's such a special freshman.

"We had a hard time guarding him and when we were in rotation and we had to leave him to help off, he did what he does best. He finished around the basket. Then he made some tough shots, I thought."

Gafford finished with four fouls, but he had only one in the first half when he scored 10 points to help the Razorbacks build a 43-32 lead. He didn't pick up his fourth foul until 5:23 was left in the game with Arkansas ahead 80-63.

"Playing them here, in my mind I had to play smarter and more physical," Gafford said. "Be smart to where I don't get early fouls and have to come out of the game.

"In my mind I was like, 'I'm ready for them. I'm ready for Tyler Davis.' I was ready for pretty much all of their big men."

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Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Gafford learned from his first game against Texas A&M.

"There they really kind of muscled him around," Anderson said. "I thought space was the big difference today. He caught the ball in space and had the opportunities to make some plays whether it be in the short corner or catching it in the block where there was nobody around. They didn't double on him.

"Our guys did a good job of penetrating and finding him, and he did a good job of finishing. He just played with great energy and a great sense of urgency."

Razorbacks senior guard Jaylen Barford said he was impressed by how much better Gafford played against the Aggies' big men the second time around.

"I thought he had a great game against those guys," Barford said. "He was banging with them. He wasn't moving when they were touching him.

"When he plays like that, it's pretty hard for anybody to guard him. He did his job today and we came out with the win."

The Aggies still got strong games from Williams and Davis. Williams had 20 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Davis had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists.

But Gafford's play helped offset what Texas A&M did inside, and Barford and senior guard Daryl Macon combined to score 41 points for the Razorbacks, including 29 in the second half. Barford had 21 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, and Macon had 20 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.

Sophomore guard C.J. Jones added 13 points for the Razorbacks, his highest-scoring game in SEC play.

The Aggies got 20 points from Admon Gilder and 12 from T.J. Starks, but junior forward D.J. Hogg was held scoreless on 0-of-6 shooting.

Arkansas outscored Texas A&M 11-3 over a 2:24 span to take a 58-43 lead with 14:41 left.

Macon started the run with a jump shot and capped it with a three-pointer. In between Macon's baskets, Gafford scored four points.

The Aggies didn't pull closer than 12 points the rest of the game.

Nine Razorbacks scored, with senior forward Dustin Thomas getting 7 points, freshman forward Gabe Osabuohien 6 and senior guard Anton Beard 5.

"I think it starts with Daniel getting going," Anderson said of the scoring being spread around. "That kind of opens it up."

After going through a three-game stretch in which he averaged 3.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, Gafford is averaging 14.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in the past five games. In the past three games he's combined to hit 20 of 27 shots.

"Daniel's learning," Anderson said. "When you go through the rigors of this SEC, you learn from game to game. That's what you do. You take notes every time you go out and play consistent."

Gafford came into this week 50.8 percent on free throws (58 of 114), but the last two games he's hit 11 of 17. He was 7 of 10 when he scored 19 points in the Razorbacks' 75-64 victory at Ole Miss on Tuesday night.

Asked about his improvement on free throws, Gafford said he doesn't want to have a reputation for missing them like Shaquille O'Neal, who shot 57.5 percent at LSU and 52.4 percent during his NBA career.

"No disrespect to Shaq, but I don't want to be known as the big man that doesn't hit free throws," Gafford said. "Coach said to me at one point in the season -- because I was missing free throws -- he said, 'Hack-a-Daniel.' That's what teams were saying about me, I guess.

"So my mindset was I had to get better at free throws. I work on them every day nonstop."

Game sketch

RECORDS Arkansas 19-8, 8-6 SEC; Texas A&M 17-10, 6-8

STARS Arkansas freshman forward Daniel Gafford (18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, 2 assists) and senior guards Jaylen Barford (21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) and Daryl Macon (20 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists). Texas A&M sophomore forward Robert Williams (20 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocked shots) and junior guard Admon Gilder (20 points, 3 steals) TURNING POINT The Razorbacks outscored the Aggies 11-3 over a 2:34 span to take a 58-43 lead with 14:41 left.

KEY STAT Arkansas outrebounded Texas A&M 45-33 after the Aggies had a 45-30 edge in the teams’ first game this season.

UP NEXT Arkansas plays Kentucky at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Sports on 02/18/2018

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