Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
In the lane:
Joe is up to the task yet again
Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe (1) shoots against Texas A&M defender Jay Jay Chandler during a game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Isaiah Joe kept up streak of big second halves for the University of Arkansas on Saturday, but it took until late in the game for the sophomore to heat up in a 69-59 victory.
Joe missed his first three shots in the second half, all from three-point range, as the Aggies tightened the game to 52-50.
Then Joe, the 6-5 guard, pulled up from the right wing and launched another long one, and the shot clock expired as it ran through the nets for a 55-50 Arkansas lead.
Joe would go on to hit a pull-up 15-footer and two more three-pointers for 11 second-half points to help the Razorbacks pull away late against the gritty Aggies.
"He's so hard to guard because [Mason Jones] can beat you on the bounce and force help and [Joe] is shooting 37% from 25 feet," Texas A&M Coach Buzz Williams said.
"If you don't help on 15 [Jones], he's going to destroy you, and when you do help, 1 [Joe] is going to shoot and 1 can shoot it past half court."
Joe shot 6 of 14 for the game, 5 of 12 from three-point range.
"He's a big-time player and we need that," Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt said. "Coming down the stretch he's one of our go-to guys and he knows that. He knows coming down ... close of game we're going to need him to make shots and he does that for us."
Joe had scored 18 points in the second halves of Arkansas last two games against Indiana and Valparaiso, giving him 72 points in the last three games, 47 of them in the second halves.
Joe has 163 made three pointers, passing Eric Ferguson (160) for eighth on the career list at Arkansas in just 47 games.
Texas A&M committed 11 second half turnovers to give the Aggies 17 for the game compared to 9 for Arkansas.
The Hogs led 17-7 in points off turnovers, a stat that Texas A&M Coach Buzz Williams lamented.
"We just can't handle a turnover margin like that," Williams said.
"The pressure is contested on every dribble. It's contested on every pass. They really own the elbow, which must be one of their key principles."
Arkansas, which led by 10 points early in the second half, never relinquished the lead, even after having a scoring drought of 5 minutes, 51 seconds.
The Razorbacks led 50-44 on a Mason Jones three-pointer from the left wing with 15:45 to play, but the Hogs would miss their next nine shots.
Fortunately for Arkansas, the Aggies would go 2 of 9 shooting over a long stretch and could not take advantage of the Hogs' lull.
Josh Nebo had a follow dunk at the 14:25 mark, then Andre Gordon drove for a layup to make it 50-48 at 13:14. The score stayed that way the next 3:20, until Jimmy Whitt hit a pull-up 15 footer over Nebo to make it 52-48.
The teams used strong ball security in the early going. The first turnover of the day came on a charging call against Texas A&M forward Josh Nebo, taken by guard Isaiah Joe, with 12:44 left in the half. That play also triggered the under 16-minute media timeout, the first of the game.
Joe took his team-high ninth charge after leading the Hogs with 27 last year.
Desi Sills had back-to-back three-point plays for the Razorbacks midway through the first half, one of the old-fashioned variety and one after a three-point shot.
The first was a big crowd pleaser. After Arkansas guard Mason Jones stole a pass from Texas A&M's Wendell Mitchell on the left wing he started a fast break. Jones left his feet early on a layup attempt against Jay Jay Chandler and the shot caromed off the backboard and rim. Sills was there to clean up with a put-back layup while being fouled by Mitchell. Sills completed the three-point play to give Arkansas a 21-20 lead.
Two possessions later, Sills was fouled by Yavuz Gultekin while taking a three-point shot on the left wing and the lefty made all three free throws.
Aggies Coach Buzz Williams praised Sills for his work on the other end of the court.
"Three [Sills' jersey number] is very pesky," he said. "Maybe that's the appropriate adjective. A really, really good on-the-ball defender."
Bailey in and out
Arkansas forward Adrio Bailey came out hobbling early in the second half after being called for a blocking foul against Wendell Mitchell. Bailey had to stop near mid-court to gather himself and had his right knee examined when he got to the bench. Bailey went to the locker room briefly, returned to the bench and checked back into the game a couple of minutes later.
Bailey picked up his fourth foul at the 13:12 mark of the second half and did not return after contributing 2 points, 1 rebound and 1 blocked shot in 17:52.
The teams were never separated by more than three points until the 7:25 mark in a nip-and-tuck first half. Arkansas guard Desi Sills made all three free throws after being fouled on a three-point try to give the Razorbacks a 24-20 lead.
Arkansas went on a 12-3 run during the final 3:04 of the first half to lead 42-33 at the break.
Texas A&M made the first shot of the game -- on Savion Flagg's banked three-pointer at the end of the shot clock on the first possession -- and did not trail for nearly the first eight minutes.
The teams were tied 3-3, 5-5, 9-9 and 11-11 before Arkansas guard Jalen Harris made two free throws at the 12:11 mark for a 13-11 Hogs advantage.
Texas A&M's first and last made shots of the game were banked three-pointers. Freshman Andre Gordon banked in a shot from the top of the key with 3:36 remaining to make the score 66-59 and that was the end of the scoring for the Aggies, who missed their final two shots.
Arkansas reserve Jalen Harris turned in a strong performance in his 31 minutes, with a game-high 5 assists, 2 steals, 6 points, 4 rebounds and no turnovers.
Harris had key assists on several big shots in the second half and contributed a runner in the lane late in the shot clock after contact to give Arkansas a 63-54 lead with 4:32 remaining.
Stay in place
The Aggies did not come on the floor and run down a hand-slapping line during their pregame introductions. They stayed huddled at the Texas A&M bench
More than 40 former Razorbacks came to the court with 3:21 remaining in the first half, and Arkansas leading 28-25 to call the Hogs.
The ex-players were in town as the basketball team celebrated its letterman's weekend.
Hot Springs native and nationally known disc jockey Bobby Bones, a huge Razorbacks fan, banged the big bass drum to get the crowd hyped just before tipoff.
Bones, 39, hosts the nationally syndicated Bobby Bones Show originating from WSIX-FM in Nashville, Tenn.
Sports on 01/05/2020
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