By Kevin McPherson
On the heels of a 4-game losing streak it looked like Arkansas’s funk was still in effect after the Razorbacks fell behind by 13 points against Missouri midway through the first half Wednesday, but the final 30 minutes looked more like the tenets of the Fastest 40 — or vintage 40 Minutes of Hell — as the Hogs wore down and ran over the Tigers, 72-60, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Isaiah Joe scored a game-high 23 points in a 3-point dual with the SEC’s other sniper specialist, Daniel Gafford double-doubled in the paint to trump Mizzou’s big man, and the Razorbacks had 13 steals among 24 forced turnovers and they held Missouri without a field goal in the final 5 minutes of the game. Arkansas, which finished on a 12-1 run, dominated points-off-turnovers (27-13), fast-break-points (18-4), and points-in-the-paint (30-16) while staying close on the glass (30-29 for minus-1, but 10-9 in second-chance points for plus-1).
The Hogs (11-7, 2-4 SEC) have won 7 of their last 9 games against the Tigers (10-7, 1-4 SEC). Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson is now 8-5 at Arkansas against his former team, all in SEC play.
“That’s Hog basketball right there,” Joe explained. “Speeding them up, making them (have) turnovers and getting points off of them. That’s part of the Fastest 40.”
After giving up 284 combined points in three straight league losses, Arkansas held Missouri to eight points below its season average.
“We got down early, don’t know if was the jitters or what it was, but we couldn’t find the basket,” Anderson said during his post-game radio interview. “And they were just packing in on Dan, so you’ve got to make shots. And I thought our defense got us going. Then in the second half, our defense continued to go, and then we started making shots.
“I thought we were active (defensively). I thought the guys that came off (the bench) — Desi (Sills), Keyshawn (Embery-Simpson), Reggie (Chaney), Gabe (Osabuohien) — that group came on and boy it just seemed like it just turned everything around. Again, with our defense — getting in the lane, getting to the basket, finishing, then getting right back into our defense. Then of course, Dan. Evidently they (Missouri) wanted to make sure that he had to work for his, and he still got a double-double. That tells you what kind of player he is. But the thing I was glad to see was those guys played off of him, and they made plays.”
Arkansas, coming off its first 4-game losing streak in Anderson’s eight seasons as Head Hog, had not won at home in two previous league games and had not beaten an opponent by a double-digit margin since it defeated Austin Peay by 11 points, 76-65, on Dec. 28 in what was the team’s most-recent win at BWA. The 12-point win against Missouri — where Anderson was head coach from 2006-2011 before taking the Arkansas job — marks the Hogs’ biggest winning cushion since taking down Texas-San Antonio by the same margin, 79-67, on Dec. 15 at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.
It was a welcome finish for the Hogs, who were 5-5 in one-or two-possession games inside of a minute before getting blown out on the road twice last week — 106-87 at now-No. 1 Tennessee and 84-67 against now-No. 20 Ole Miss.
“Our guys know they’re a good basketball team but we’ve come up short,” Anderson said. “We haven’t played the 40 minutes, but we got closer to it tonight.”
Arkansas sophomore wing Mason Jones nailed a 3 to give Arkansas the lead for good, 38-37, at the 17:41 mark of the second half, but the Hogs never mounted more than a 6-point advantage as the Tigers hung in and found themselves down by only a point inside of 5 minutes left in the contest.
Missouri’s Mark Smith, who came in leading the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage at 46.7%, made his sixth and final basket from distance to pull the Tigers within 58-57 with 5:04 remaining in the game. That would also be Missouri’s last made field goal on the night, but after a layup by Arkansas sophomore point guard Jalen Harris, Tigers’ senior forward Kevin Puryear would make two free throws at the 4:27 mark to pull Mizzou within one again, 60-59.
From there, Arkansas delivered the decisive knockout blows against a Mizzou club that was worn down from the Hogs’ opportunistic press and aggressive halfcourt defense. Gafford’s lay-in to beat the shot-clock buzzer put the Hogs back up by three, 62-59, and Joe sandwiched a couple of punctuation 3s around a Chaney transition lay-in as the Razorbacks closed on a 12-1 run while holding the Tigers to 0-of-2 field goals and forcing 4 turnovers in the final 5 minutes.
Joe, who came in second in the league in 3-point field goal percentage at 43.6%, finished the game 8-of-13 field goals, including 7-of-12 from 3, for his game-high 23 points to go with 3 steals, 2 assists, and 1 rebound in 33 minutes. After starting SEC play with only 22 total points in three games on a combined 5-of-17 from 3 (29.4%), Joe has thawed out in the Hogs’ last three SEC games by scoring a combined 57 points and shooting a combined 17-of-34 from 3 (50%). Joe’s third triple gave Arkansas its first second-half lead, 35-34, at the 19:24 mark, and his fifth make from behind the arc at 13:38 gave the Hogs their biggest lead of the game at the time, 48-42.
“He’s a good shooter, he’s a good player,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said of Joe, who once again leads the SEC in made 3-pointer with 68. “I’ve obviously watched him on film you know and he’s a talented player. But he’s better than I thought he was when you see him in person. Because he’s moving, he’s long, he can move, he can ball-handle, he can shoot the ball, he’s active. He’s a good player.”
Gafford notched his 8th double-double of the season with 13 points (6-of-9 field goals and 1-of-5 free throws) and 10 rebounds to go with 2 steals. He didn’t score his first basket until the 9:59 mark of the first half as once again he faced double teams and a sagging defense meant to limit his touches and scoring opportunties.
“It feels great,” Gafford said of the Hogs getting back in the win column. “Like I said, we got our confidence back, which as you can see, we’ve been getting manhandled the last couple of games.”
Harris — 10 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, and zero turnovers in 32 minutes — bounced back with perhaps his best game since helping Arkansas win at Texas A&M, 73-71, on the road in the SEC opener. Jones, who followed 70 total points in three games with a 1-of-10 shooting night against Ole Miss for 5 points, had another rough night shooting against Missouri — 2-of-10, including 2-of-8 from 3, for 6 points. But those two made 3s were big in a tight second-half and helped Arkansas match the SEC’s best 3-point shooting team as both teams finished 10-of-25 behind the arc for 40%
The Hogs’ bench — Sills (8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), Chaney (6 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals), and Embery-Simpson (5 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound) — outscored the Tigers’ reserves, 19-15. All three were catalysts in getting Arkansas’s pressure defense firing on all cylinders midway through the first half.
Smith led Missouri with 22 points, making 6-of-11 from 3. Senior guard Jordan Geist, who came in averaging 13.7 points to lead the Tigers, finished with only 7 points while suffereing 5 tunovers. Sophomore big man Jeremiah Tilmon got off to a good start, scoring 4 points in Mizzou’s 6-2 start to the game, but fouled out with only 9 points and 5 rebounds in 27 minutes as Gafford took over inside.
Missouri jumped on Arkansas early, using a 10-0 run to take a 14-2 lead at the 12:11 mark as Arkansas started the game 1-of-11 from the field. The Hogs would trail 17-4 when Gafford scored his first basket at 9:59 to spark a 5-0 Arkansas mini run. Missouri led 23-12 with 7:08 left in the first half when Joe, Gafford, Chaney, Sills, and Keyshawn Embery-Simpson combined for an 18-6 Razorbacks run over a 4:58 span that gave Arkansas its first lead of the game, 30-29. The Tigers responded with a 5-0 run for a 34-30 advantage, but an off-balance Gafford spun in an improbable basket high off the glass to pull Arkansas within 34-32 at the break.
The Hogs scored 11 points off 11 Missouri turnovers in the first half.
Next up for the Hogs is a road game against No. 14 Texas Tech (15-4) on Saturday in the Big XII-SEC Challenge, then the following week it’s back home against Georgia on Tuesday, Jan. 29, before a road game against No. 25 LSU on Saturday, Feb. 2.