Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
SEC MEN’S BASKETBALL ARKANSAS 69, TEXAS A&M 59:
Hogging it at end: Razorbacks show mettle late in victory
Arkansas guard Mason Jones (15) is shown during a game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas men's basketball team led Texas A&M for more than 30 minutes Saturday night, but it wasn't until the end that the Razorbacks were able to put the Aggies away.
The Razorbacks pulled away late to beat the Aggies 69-59 before an announced crowd of 19,200 at Walton Arena.
Three consecutive turnovers by Texas A&M helped Arkansas push its lead to 66-56 on a stick-back basket by Mason Jones, a driving basket by Jalen Harris and a three-pointer by Isaiah Joe.
After the Aggies pulled within 66-59 on Andre Gordon's three-pointer with 3:36 left, the Razorbacks (12-1, 1-0 SEC) didn't allow Texas A&M (6-6, 0-1) to score again.
"The tape we watched, we kind of figured it would be a grind-it-out game," Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. "There's not a lot of transition flow when you play A&M. I thought Coach [Buzz] Williams did a phenomenal job of controlling tempo."
Senior guard Jimmy Whitt said he wasn't surprised the Aggies made it tough on the Razorbacks.
"I think just chalk that up to conference play," Whitt said. "We knew they were going to come out and play hard, play well. So you've got to give credit to them.
"But it was one of those games you need in conference play to show you can grind it out, even when things may not be going your way or how you want them to.
"I'm not too disappointed in how it went. I thought we needed it personally."
The Razorbacks play their first SEC road game Wednesday at defending conference champion LSU, which won 78-64 at Tennessee on Saturday.
"We're 1-0 in league play, and we played good basketball," Musselman said. "I didn't think it was our best game of the year, but we played well enough to win. We certainly have to play a lot better in Baton Rouge than we did tonight."
Jones, a junior guard, and Joe, a sophomore guard, each scored 17 points to lead the Razorbacks. They combined for 17 of Arkansas' final 23 points.
Jones had 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. Joe had 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.
"Isaiah and Mason are going to have the ball in their hands the last eight minutes of every game we play that's a tight game," Musselman said. "That's just how it's going to be every game.
"And then we're going to make the opposition try to figure out how to get the ball out of their hands or how to contest their shots."
"The great thing about both of those guys is their court vision and ability to dribble the basketball and create for themselves and create for others."
Texas A&M never led in the second half, but the Aggies pulled within 52-50 with 9:01 left on freshman guard Gordon Mason's driving basket.
"I think we have to shorten the game for our roster to have its best chance," Williams said. "I thought our preparation was good.
"I thought we handled an incredible basketball environment in many respects about as well as we could."
Gordon led Texas A&M with 15 points and senior forward Josh Nebo had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
The Aggies committed 17 turnovers to eight for the Razorbacks and Arkansas had a 17-7 edge in points off of turnovers.
"It's just so hard for us to overcome the turnover rate that we have," Williams said.
It also was hard for Texas A&M to overcome the differential in three-point shooting with the Razorbacks hitting 10 of 24 from beyond the arc and the Aggies 4 of 14, including bank-ins by Savion Flagg and Gordon.
"I think when you're a small unit, I go into every game trying to figure out, like, do we need to outscore them by 20 from three?" Musselman said. "Do we need to outscore them by 15?
"That line is really important to us offensively, and it's maybe more important to us defensively taking away the three."
Musselman said he was counting on the Aggies going 2 of 14 on three-pointers.
"When I met with the team [today], statistically, to me they went 2 for 14 from three, because I know they didn't call those two bank shots," he said. "We're doing a great job of defending that three-point line to open up scoring margins from behind the line."
Razorbacks sophomore guard Desi Sills had 13 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals.
"[Sills] is a very pesky -- maybe that's the appropriate adjective," Williams said. "Really, really good on-the-ball defender."
Williams said the Razorbacks did a good job of contesting every shot and pass.
"They own the elbow," Williams said of the top of the top corner of the lane. "I think that's one of their defensive principles. Really hard to get it to the elbow."
Arkansas closed the first half by outscoring Texas A&M 12-3 -- capped by Sills' three-point basket with two seconds left -- to give the Razorbacks a 42-33 halftime lead.
But Arkansas struggled to put the Aggies away in the second half.
"No real frustration," said Whitt, who had 12 points. "It's just college basketball, it's conference time.
"They were jacked up and ready to play. We were jacked up and ready to play. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game."
Arkansas shot 41.4% (24 of 58) from the field and hit 11 of 15 free throws.
"They're a really good defensive team," Whitt said. "They're good at controlling the pace of the game. They didn't let the game get away from them in any aspect of it.
"I thought we sort of played maybe at their pace. So stuff that we can go back and watch film on and get better on.
"You have to tip your hat to them because they played hard."
Williams said Jones and Joe are a tough combo for a defense to stop and also praised Whitt for settling down the Razorbacks when they needed it.
"I think 33 [Whitt] does a really good job of maybe -- I'm not trying to coach their team -- when it's out of sorts or out of rhythm, 33 does a really good job of controlling it," Williams said. "To make sure that 15 and 1 get the shots they need to get."
RECORDS Arkansas 12-1, 1-0 SEC;
Texas A&M 6-6, 0-1
STARS Arkansas junior guard Mason Jones (17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) and sophomore guard Isaiah Joe (17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals). Texas A&M freshman guard Andre Gordon (15 points, 3 assists) and senior forward Josh Nebo (10 points, 13 rebounds).
KEY STAT Arkansas hit 10 of 29 three-pointers to Texas A&M’s 4 of 15.
UP NEXT Arkansas plays LSU at 8 p.m. Central on Wednesday at the Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.
Sports on 01/05/2020
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