By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — Everyone who showed up to Bud Walton Arena on Saturday expecting a track meet between Arkansas and Florida International was treated to three thrilling events — the Joe-velin, the triple double-double jump, and the 100-point dash.
Freshman guard Isaiah Joe had a career-high 34 points (including 10-of-13 shooting from 3), the Hogs’ trio of Daniel Gafford, Mason Jones, and Jalen Harris was a single point shy of each having double-doubles, and the Razorbacks crossed the finish line first en route to a 121-89 win — their 5th consecutive victory.
Coming off an 8-day break between games, Arkansas (5-1) used a 19-5 run in the first half for a 43-25 lead and was never seriously threatened again by a Panthers team that came in third nationally in scoring (96.9 points per game) while also being at or near the top of several other offensive and defensive categories.
“It was actually a fun game,” Joe said. “This is the way that we play, the way we practice against each other. So them pressing us like that, it was just like first nature. We were already used to it. It wasn’t anything we hadn’t already seen before.
“We’re the Fastest40. That’s what we do. We get up and down.”
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson had predicted a run-and-fun affair earlier in the week.
“I said it was going to be an entertaining game, and it was,” Anderson said. “A lot of offense and there was some defense played there. Obviously they wanted to play uptempo and we wanted to play uptempo. I thought our guys played well.”
Joe’s 34-point night was one point shy of the single-game scoring mark for a freshman (Bobby Portis had 35 in 2013-14), and it tied him for second-most with former Hog guard and current assistant coach Scotty Thurman, who had two 34-point games as a freshman during the ’92-93 season.
Joe’s 10 made 3-pointers is tied for third-most in a game by a Razorback. He’s now 24 of 52 from distance on the season for 46.2%. The Fort Smith native also had 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and only 1 turnover in 28 minutes against FIU.
Joe scored 14 of his points during a 4-minute, 37-second span late in the first half that stretched a 24-20 Arkansas lead to 48-28 with 3:43 left before the break. He had 17 points as Arkansas led FIU 58-35 at the break, and he had another 17 points as the Hogs outscored the Panthers 63-54 in the final 20 minutes.
“As a shooter you’re always taught to shoot the ball no matter what,” Joe said. “I was just fortunate my teammates kept finding me for those open looks and I was able to knock them down.”
Joe also talked about joining Thurman in rarified freshman-scoring air.
“He’s definitely a role model to me,” Joe said. “Just to be tied with him, I mean, he’s one of the best players that’s come though here, so it’s a big honor. I just hope I can proceed in this way in the future.”
Gafford recorded his third double-double of the season — he had 3 in 35 games as a freshman — as he finished with 23 points (9-of-12 field goals and 5-of-8 free throws), 12 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 1 steal in 23 minutes. Gafford, who came into the game leading the SEC in field goal percentage at 72.5%, raised his shooting efficiency to 73.0% (he’s now 46-of-63 on the season).
Sophomore wing Mason Jones recorded his first career double-double: 19 points and 10 rebounds to go with 3 assists and 1 steal in 25 minutes.
Sophomore point guard Jalen Harris was one point shy of becoming the third Razorback with a double-double on the night as he finished with 9 points, 10 assists, 3 rebounds, and only 1 turnover in 26 minutes. It was Harris’s second game of the season with at least 10 assists, and he now has 39 assists against only 7 turnovers through six games.
Junior forward Adrio Bailey had 10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 steal, and 1 assist in 16 minutes. Freshman guards Desi Sills and Keyshawn Embery-Simpson led the second-unit combining for 14 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals. Freshmen Jordan Phillips (4 points and 2 rebounds) and Ethan Henderson (3 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal) each made their first field goals as Razorbacks.
“Isaiah Joe has a career high night, and what a shooting display he put on,” Anderson said. “But I think you go back to how the game started, it started with a dunk by Daniel Gafford. So a lot of attention was paid to Daniel. But he (Joe) got in one of those zones and our guys did a good job of really finding him. So a good balance in scoring.
“We had two guys with double-doubles and had another guy, Jalen Harris, almost have a double-double. He had nine points and 10 assists. Daniel gets a double-double and I think Mason Jones had a double-double. So we had a lot of contributions from a lot of players on this basketball team.”
The 121 points was the most for an Arkansas team since the opening game of the 2009-10 season when Arkansas scored 130 points in a win over Alcorn State (that’s when then-sophomore guard Rotnei Clark scored 51 points while setting the school record with 13 made 3-pointers).
The 210 combined points were the most in an Arkansas game since December 1994, when Arkansas defeated the Centenary Gentlemen, 121-94.
FIU (7-2), which had its four-game winning streak snapped by Arkansas, came in leading the nation in steals 11.9 per game) and turnover margin (minus-9.9 per game), while the Razorbacks ranked eighth nationally in turnovers forced (19.8 per game) and 29th in steals per game (8.8).
The teams tied with 14 turnovers each. Arkansas had 10 steals compared to FIU’s 8, and the Hogs had 11 blocks compared to the Golden Panthers’ 2.
Arkansas held its fifth opponent in six games below 40% shooting from the field — FIU was 31-of-83 for 37.3%, which included only 6-of-36 from 3 for 16.7%.
Conversely, Arkansas was a sizzling 42-of-69 field goals for 60.9%, and that included 13-of-25 from 3.
Arkansas also won rebounds (51-42), assists (26-16), and points-in-the-paint (52-50)
Senior 5-10 guard Brian Beard, Jr., finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals. He came into the game shooting 50.5% from the field, but managed only a 5-of-15 effort (33.3%) against Arkansas’s stingy defense. Trejon Jacob finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds for the Panthers.
Next up for the Razorbacks is their first true road game of the season against Colorado State on Wednesday in Fort Collins, CO. Following that matchup against the Rams, Arkansas will play five consecutive in-state games (four at home in Fayetteville, one in North Little Rock) to round out December, including Western Kentucky at BWA on Dec. 8 and Georgia Tech at BWA on Dec. 19. The Razorbacks open up SEC play at Texas A&M on Jan. 5, 2019.