SEC MEN’S BASKETBALL:

Razorbacks put up their guards late, pull off close victory against Texas A&M

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, January 6, 2019
Texas A&M's TJ Starks (2) faces Arkansas' Mason Jones (13) near the basket in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in College Station, Texas. (Laura McKenzie/College Station Eagle via AP)
Texas A&M's TJ Starks (2) faces Arkansas' Mason Jones (13) near the basket in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in College Station, Texas. (Laura McKenzie/College Station Eagle via AP)

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The University of Arkansas basketball team was down and out.

The Razorbacks were down two points on the road against Texas A&M with 6:40 left, and Daniel Gafford -- their 6-11 sophomore star -- was out of the game because he had four fouls.

That's when sophomore guards Mason Jones and Jalen Harris, and freshman guard Isaiah Joe took over.

The trio keyed a decisive run that carried the Razorbacks (10-3, 1-0 SEC) to a 73-71 victory Saturday before an announced crowd of 10,049 at Reed Arena.

Joe hit a three-point basket, then Jones hit three in a row to put Arkansas ahead 65-59. Harris followed with two free throws and drove for a basket to push the lead to 69-61 with 1:34 left.

Gafford watched the rally from the bench.

"The guys stepped up without me," said Gafford, who didn't come back into the game until the final minute. "It's not a Daniel Gafford team. It's a Hog team."

The Razorbacks made it exciting to the end when they hit just 3 of 8 free throws in the final 57.7 seconds, but they held on when TJ Starks -- a sophomore guard who led the Aggies (6-6, 0-1) with 23 points -- missed a three-pointer with five seconds left and Arkansas ahead 72-69.

"It felt good coming off my hand," Starks said. "I thought it was going in. I think any shot I take is going to go. Unfortunately, it was short."

Aggies forward Christian Mekowulu got the rebound and scored to make it 72-71.

Joe hit 1 of 2 free throws with two seconds left. He missed the second attempt, leaving Starks time for only a long heave that fell well short of the basket.

Harris, shooting 75.9 percent on free throws coming into the game, was 1 of 4 on free throws in his two trips to the line with 57.7 and 42.4 seconds left. Freshman guard Desi Sills was 1 of 2 with 27 seconds left before Joe hit 1 of 2.

The Razorbacks finished 11 of 22 on free throws.

"I thought we'd be able to make free throws," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. "But I've been around this game long enough to know it's not over until it's over and says zero-zero on the clock.

"We were fortunate, and that's what you've got to be on the road in the SEC. Our league is really, really good. I'm happy for our guys. I thought they played their tails off."

Arkansas hit 10 of 33 three-pointers, and was 1 of 14 in the second half before Joe and Jones heated up in the final 5:16.

"Jalen did a good job of finding those guys, and I thought those guys did a good job of getting open," Anderson said. "We're a much better shooting team than we had been showing.

"You just didn't know when it was going to come. We talk about a game of runs, that run came from the three-point line."

Jones started 0 of 7 from the field Saturday after going 1 of 10 in the previous game against Austin Peay.

After enduring that 1 for 17 stretch, Jones hit three consecutive three-pointers in a 1:44 span.

"I thought our guys encouraged him," Anderson said. "Jalen told him, 'Hey man, you've got to shoot the basketball. You're open, shoot it,' and Mason did. That was good to see, especially in big moments."

Jones said he was following the example of Kobe Bryant -- the former Los Angele Lakers star -- to keep shooting despite missing.

"I know I was missing a lot, but shoutout to my teammates for keeping my confidence up," Jones said. "I knew eventually my shot was going to come back around."

Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy praised Jones' attitude.

"Mason Jones did a good job of getting himself open, and he made some crucial threes," Kennedy said. "He got good looks.

"You can't give college basketball players at this level that many open looks. I thought to his credit he kept working hard to get open, and he made some big shots."

Harris led Arkansas with 15 points, 9 assists and 3 rebounds without a turnover in 36 minutes.

"I thought Jalen took control on the floor, because we had some adversity take place," Anderson said. "My hat's off to him. I was proud of him."

Sophomore forward Savion Flagg had 20 points and 15 rebounds for Texas A&M.

Sills had a career-high 14 points off the bench. Gafford had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Joe scored 11 points, and Jones had nine.

Arkansas sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien, who went in for Gafford after he drew his fourth foul, had 6 points, 7 rebounds and 1 steal.

"They had a number of guys who stepped up for them," Kennedy said. "They got good scoring from everybody that played for them."

Jones said the Razorbacks didn't panic when Texas A&M led 55-53 and Gafford had to go to the bench.

"We just kept our heads up," Jones said. "I knew we had a run in us. I knew we were going to pick it up. I knew I was going to pick it up.

"For my teammates to still have confidence in me, I needed that. I needed that a lot."

Game sketch

RECORDS Arkansas 10-3, 1-0 SEC. Texas A&M 6-6, 0-1

STARS Arkansas sophomore guard Jalen Harris (15 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds) and sophomore forward Daniel Gafford (11 points, 11 rebounds). Texas A&M sophomore guard TJ Starks (23 points) and sophomore forward Savion Flagg (20 points, 15 rebounds)

TURNING POINT The Razorbacks used a 16-6 run to turn a 55-53 deficit into a 69-61 lead with 1:34 left.

KEY STAT Arkansas led 18-16 in second-chance points after being outscored 50-12 in the previous three games.

UP NEXT Arkansas plays Florida at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Sports on 01/06/2019

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