By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — This time, a 1-of-2 trip at the free throw line in the closing seconds of a one-possession game was just what the doctor … ahem, coach … ordered for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Sophomore wing Mason Jones went 1-of-2 at the line with 2.5 seconds left to break a tie game, missing the second freebie intentionally to force a three-quarters-court desperation heave by Indiana, which was out of timeouts, as the Hogs took down the previously unbeaten Hoosiers, 73-72, on Sunday at Bud Walton Arena in front of an estimated 15,000 fans and an ESPN national television audience.
Against Texas in the Hogs’ Nov. 9 season-opener, Arkansas’s 1-of-2 trip at the foul line with 9.4 seconds left in regulation led to a last-second, game-tying 3-pointer by the ‘Horns in a contest they eventually won in overtime, 73-71.
The make-and-miss free-throw combination against Indiana was part of the strategy this time around as Arkansas coach Mike Anderson instructed Jones to miss the second free throw during a timeout that Hoosiers head coach Archie Miller called following Jones’ made freebie on his first attempt.
“The second (free throw), Coach A told me to miss it and to make sure it was a good miss,” Jones said. “I didn’t know it was going to be that good of a miss. We got the win.”
Jones’ defensive rebound in heavy traffic — after two misses at the rim by Indiana — drew a foul on the Hoosiers’ De’Ron Davis with 2.5 seconds left, sending Jones to the line for the game-winner.
It was not only redemption for the Hogs given the Texas result, but it was also redemption for Jones, who missed the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity with 1:01 and Arkansas leading 72-69 that led to a 3-pointer by Indiana freshman guard Rob Phinisee that tied the game at 72 with 48 seconds to play.
“I wanted to make the first free throw (earlier), but Coach Anderson told me the next play I was going to get it back,” Jones said. “I saw on the defensive end that if we got a stop, I wanted to go get the rebound. Last time against Texas I didn’t get the rebound and they got the rebound. This time I wanted to make sure I made up for that. I knew the next time it came I was going to be ready.”
Arkansas, which held 10-point leads three times in the second half, improved to 2-1, giving Mike Anderson a winning record through the first three games in each of his eight seasons as head coach at Arkansas.
“Great atmosphere for Razorback Nation,” Anderson said. “Thank you guys (fans) for showing up and showing out. I thought the turnout propelled our guys.
“Can’t say enough about our guys’ resolve. Indiana made a run and made plays, and guess what, we answered on the other end. We made plays and we executed. You talk about having played the Texas game, I thought it came back to help us. We didn’t panic and we made the right plays at the right time.”
Miller, now 1-2 head-to-head in games coaching against Anderson at Arkansas, was impressed with the Hogs as well as sophomore center and preseason All SEC 1st team pick Daniel Gafford.
“Tough, tough hard-fought game,” said Miller, who guided the Hoosiers to a 19-15 record (9-9 in Big Ten) in 2017-18 in his first season as Indiana head coach. “Give Arkansas credit. I thought they played very good. I thought they played very hard and Daniel Gafford was a really, really tough handle for us today.
“He pretty much neutralized the game at any point in time, and he was dominant, which is something that is obviously going to help us moving forward in defending the caliber of big like that.”
In a matchup of two potential, if not likely, 2019 NBA Draft lottery picks, Gafford and Hoosiers freshman guard Romeo Langford did not disappoint.
Gafford finished with a career-high 27 points — 19 in the second half — on 10-of-13 field goals and 3-of-8 free throws to go with 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals in 31 minutes. Although his free-throw struggles continued, he shaved his turnovers in half — only 3 after suffering 6 in each of the Hogs’ first two games.
After Indiana strung together a 13-2 run for a 54-53 lead with 10:52 to play, Gafford would score Arkansas’s next 14 points, coming inside and out, while also scrapping on the defensive end to limit the Hoosiers. During that 7-minute stretch, Gafford forcefully willed the Hogs to a narrow, 67-66 lead with 3:58 to play.
“What can you say about Daniel?” Anderson asked. “He played his tail off on both ends of the floor, starting the game off with a blocked shot that enabled us to get a basket at the other end.
“I thought our guys did a good job of really identifying and getting the ball to him. He was determined to make plays. He had the mismatch. We had those guys in foul trouble, so our strategy was to get it into him, and then guys play off of him.
It was good to see him step up and answer the call. He had a tremendous game. Not only offensively, but defensively as well.”
Gafford attributed his performance to playing stronger and not forcing the issue.
“What was going good for me is that I wasn’t playing weak like I usually do,” Gafford said. “I would usually come in and just have my main focus to be to go get the game. But this time I let the game come to me instead of just trying to take it.
“Letting the game come to you goes more smooth. It just came smooth and came out of nowhere because ever time I would touch the ball, I would either miss and get the rebound or I would go up and get a foul.”
Langford, a 6-6 guard, had his own double-double — 22 points and 10 rebounds — to lead Indiana, which fell to 3-1 after winning its first three games by an average margin of 38.7 points, including a 96-73 home win Wednesday over No. 24 Marquette.
The Hoosiers came in averaging 93.3 points per game on 58.6% field goal shooting, including a brilliant 70.6% on two-point shots.
But Arkansas once again used an effective mix of man-to-man and 2-3 matchup zone, forcing 18 turnovers and limiting the Hoosiers to 46.6% field goal shooting, including 50.0% on 2-point attempts — both marks well below their previous shooting efficiency.
“Indiana is a very good basketball team,” Anderson said. “They’ll be ranked and they’ll be playing some tournament basketball at the end of the year. So we’re fortunate.”
Jones, who came in averaging 16.0 points and 7.0 rebounds, continued to show a strong overall floor game — 11 points including the game-winning free throw, a game-high 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, and no turnovers in a game-high 38 minutes.
Arkansas freshman guard Isaiah Joe of Fort Smith continued to give the Hogs scoring production and hustle plays. He finished with 13 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, a drawn charge, and only 1 turnover in 33 minutes.
Arkansas’s bench had it’s best game to date, contributing a combined 13 points in the first half after having only 16 points in the first two games combined.
Sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien had a spinning layup soon after entering the game, then he hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left that gave Arkansas a 38-35 halftime lead … freshman forward Reggie Chaney had 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 13 minutes … freshman Desi Sills was feisty defensively, finishing with 2 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal, and multiple disruptive deflections in 11 minutes … freshman guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson had 2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block in 14 minutes.
“A good team win,” Anderson said. “The bench was much, much better tonight and that was the difference in the ballgame.”
Arkansas trailed 14-9 before using and 8-0 run for a 17-14 lead midway through the first half. The teams would go back-and forth from there before Osabuohien’s triple that gave Arkansas a 3-point lead at the break. In the second half, Arkansas started out on a 7-0 run for its first of three 10-point leads, 45-35.
The win over Indiana in the second of four consecutive home games being billed as the Hardwood Classic caps a 3-game, 9-day start to the season for Arkansas, which included that season-opening loss to Texas in El Pass, TX, as well as an 81-58 win over California-Davis on Monday in the Hogs’ home-opener (the first of the four Hardwood Classic home games).
Through those first two games, the Razorbacks struggled with free throw shooting (only 61.5%, including 54.2% against Texas and 42.9% in the first half against UC Davis), assists and turnovers (22 assists compared to 33 turnovers), scoring in transition (only 6 fast-break points from 38 opposition turnovers), and bench production (only 16 bench points in 107 minutes as Arkansas’s starters have accounted for 136 points and 318 minutes). Conversely, Arkansas had been solid overall defensively, mixing in a 2-3 matchup zone with its man-to-man halfcourt defense while limiting Texas to 31.3% field goal shooting (including 19.2% in the second half) and UC Davis to 32.1% field goal shooting (including 25.0% in the second half). Arkansas also had an edge in points in the paint and points off turnovers after two games.
Against Indiana, the free throw woes continued (11-of-19 for 57.9%), but Arkansas had 20 assists on 28 made field goals while cutting down their turnovers to a season-low (includes preseason) 12 giveaways. Of the 18 turnovers the Hogs forced, 8 were steals (compared to only 4 for Indiana). Arkansas also had 7 blocks to Indiana’s 1, which aided the Hogs’ points-in-the-paint advantage of 38-30.
With the win, the Hogs improved to 2-1 all-time against Indiana, including back-to-back wins. In the previous two matchups, the Hoosiers won in December 1949, and the Hogs won in March 2008 during the second round of the NCAA tournament in Raleigh, N.C.
Between Arkansas and Indiana, the programs have combined for: 6 national championships (Indiana 5, Arkansas 1) … 2 national runners-up (Indiana 1, Arkansas 1) … 14 Final Fours (Indiana 8, Arkansas 6) … 21 Elite Eights (Indiana 11, Arkansas 10) … 33 Sweet 16s (Indiana 22, Arkansas 11) … 71 NCAA tournament appearances (Indiana 39, Arkansas 32) … 46 regular-season conference championships (Indiana 22, Arkansas 24).
Following Sunday’s game, Arkansas will play the final two Hardwood Classic matchups at BWA next week — Montana State on Wednesday, Nov. 21, and Texas-Arlington on Friday, Nov. 23. Those two matchups are part of eight total remaining in-state games (seven at home in Fayetteville, one in North Little Rock) in the months of November and December, including Western Kentucky at BWA on Dec. 8 and Georgia Tech at BWA on Dec. 19. The Razorbacks play only once more outside the state of Arkansas — at Colorado State on Dec. 5 — before opening up SEC play at Texas A&M on Jan. 5, 2019.
5 Things on My Pre-Game Radar for Arkansas-Indiana:
1) Free throw shooting and turnovers … if this is beginning to sound like a broken record, so be it until the Hogs show significant improvement … 61.5% overall from the foul line is not going to cut it, but was a 21-of-27 effort (77.8%) in the second half against UC Davis an anomoly or a turning point? Too soon to think the latter might be true after a shaky preseason followed by 3 consecutive dismal halves against the Longhorns and Aggies … encouraging, though, that Gafford and Bailey went from a combined 4-of-11 against Texas to a combined 15-of-20 against UC Davis … as far as the turnovers, 33 in two games is not a complete fail but so many have been unforced, and coupled with a low output in assists to this point (only 22 in two games) the miscues seem more glaring … most of the individual giveaways have been a result of Gafford (12 total turnovers) struggling to play through defensive double-teams … can the Hogs clean things up at the free throw line (Indiana opponents are averaging 19 attempts per game) and take care of the basketball (Indiana is forcing nearly 20 turnovers per game)? They’ll have to have a chance to win this game.
Result: Okay, the free throw shooting continued to be a problem (11-of-19 for 57.9%), but all that matters now is the mastery of strategy in the 1-of-2 finish to seal a big early-season win … Arkansas had a season low in turnovers (12, including Gafford’s improvement of only 3 turnovers), and combined with a season-high 20 assists Arkansas made vast improvement in taking care of the ball while moving and sharing it.
2) Defense … Arkansas kept both Texas and UC Davis in the low 30’s in field-goal percentage, but here comes Indiana and it’s shiny 58.6% shooting, including a brilliant and blinding 70.6% on 2-point shots … the Hogs have done a good job of changing defenses while limiting deep penetration, closing fast on ball movememnt, staying in front of shooters on the perimeter, crashing passing lanes and getting deflections, and Gafford has been disruptive by altering shots when he’s not blocking them … though the Hogs have only 6 fast-break points off of 38 opposition turnovers, they have been winning the points-off-turnovers battles (26-8 advantage against UC Davis) … the Hoosiers will put size and skill on the floor, and they are averaging an impressive 93.3 points and 20.0 assists per game, which suggests good spacing and ball movement, so the Razorbacks will have to be on-point defensively … can Arkansas slow the Hoosiers down?
Result: Yes, Arkansas can and did slow down the hot-shooting Hoosiers, limiting them to season lows in overall field goal shooting and 2-point field goal shooting while forcing 18 turnovers (including 8 steals) and blocking 7 shots … part of Arkansas’s success early was due in part to Indiana senior forward Juwan Morgan going to the bench with foul trouble, but even when Indiana started finishing more effectively at the basket in the second half, the Hogs did enough to disrupt and scrap their way to a win.
3) Bench … completely out of the norm for an Arkansas second unit to average only 8.0 points while being outscored 42-16 and playing only 53.5 minutes per game … the Hogs are still operating with a 9-deep rotation, and top reserves Gabe Osabuohien, Desi Sills, Keyshwn Embery-Simpson, and Reggie Chaney have simply been out of sync and often in a hurry once they check into the game … Osabuohien makes energy plays (takes charges, crashes the glass, gets defelctions, etc.) but he’s been overly aggressive offensively with several ill-advised drives and off-balance shots … Chaney has appeared rushed on offense, which has led to turnovers including offensive fouls, but he appears to have the size, strength, quickness, and talent to help Arkansas around the basket at both ends of the floor … given the Hoosiers have been excellent in offensive pace and efficiency while 10 players are averaging at least 12.5 minutes per game, the Razorbacks are going to need production and meaningful impact from their bench in support of the starters … will they get it?
Result: Much better … the Hogs’ reserves had 13 points in the first half to almost double their season total of 16, and they lost the bench scoring battle by only a point, 14-13, after getting clobbered in the first two games, 42-16 … Osabuohien and Chaney gave solid frontline contributions at both ends of the floor, as did Sills and Embery-Simpson in backcourt support … Osabuohien’s 3 to give Arkansas a 38-35 halftime lead drew praise from Anderson after the game.
4) Gafford must get better against double-teams for Arkansas’s offense to maximize its potential while shaving down the turnovers … another broken-record moment for obvious issues still facing the 6-11 El Dorado native … the 12 turnovers — 6 in each game — have mostly been a result of poor management when defenses spring double-teams on him … against Texas, Gafford appeared to react slowly while not moving the ball to teammates … against UC Davis, Gafford made some good passes but was often playing too fast which disrupted timing and still led to turnovers … several things here: a) Gafford has not done a good job of catching a pass and immediately turning to face the defender and the basket to see where the help is coming from (if he did it would allow him to make better-placed, timely passes, or smarter moves away from the double-teams; b) most of the double-teams have come from behind Gafford on his high side, which means if he’s not going to face-up but still expects to beat the double with a move, he needs to be decisive and drop-step or spin baseline-side — too often he’s tried to beat the double going to the middle of the paint toward the help before it gets set, but that too has resulted in awkward spacing and turnovers; c) don’t think, just pass out quickly to the nearest teammate in line of sight and reset — that makes the defense work harder while the ball moves, and a reset to re-establish low-block position makes the second interior pass more adventageous for Gafford to finish … will Gafford make necessary adjustments in time for Indiana?
Result: No need to go over his free throw and turnover particulars, because simply put, Gafford had a career night and willed Arkansas to the finish line in the 4th quarter of a NCAAT-resume-building win … he was wonderful!
5) Is Reggie Chaney ready to break out? After a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) in Arkansas’s first exhibition game against Tusculum, it appeared Chaney was ready to be a productive reserve on a team short on depth … but foul problems and mistakes have limited his minutes since, although his per-minute production still reflects a player who will be a key piece in Arkansas’s rotation … Anderson has said Chaney will have to step up for this team to accomplish goals, and no better time to do that than against an Indiana team that likely will be ranked if it exits Fayetteville with a 4-0 record … will the 6-8 freshman forward give Arkansas a shot in the arm off the bench to help the Hogs defend and rebound at one end while finishing around the basket at the other? He may have to if Arkansas is to come out with a 2-game winning streak.
Result: Mixed bag, but Chaney gave Arkansas two tough interior baskets while contributing 3 rebounds and 3 blocks in only 13 minutes as his per-minute production continues to be solid … you can tell it’s only a matter of time before Chaney starts to click and increase his playing time and production.