By Kevin McPherson
Earlier in the week, Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson wondered aloud whether or not his team’s defense, offense, rebounding, and bench play would “travel” in its first true road test of the season Wednesday night against Colorado State. And for a 2-minute, 36-second stretch of the second half — when the Rams whittled a 22-point deficit down to 7 with 12:15 to play — Razorback fans were surely beginning to wonder if the football Hogs’ second-half-collapse-itis had traveled back to Fort Collins, CO, with the Hoop Hogs.
Not this time, and not these Hogs.
Arkansas (6-1) put down that Rams run with a 13-0 spurt of its own en route to holding another opponent below 40% shooting, dominating the glass, and flirting with the century mark once again in a dominating 98-74 win at high-altitude Moby Arena, giving the Razorbacks a 6-game winning streak. The finish was a far cry from the 5-1 Razorbacks of a year ago that face-planted, 91-65, against Houston in their first road game of the 2017-18 season, as well as the football Razorbacks who gave up 25 unanswered points late in a 34-27 loss to Colorado State in their first road game of the recently completed 2018 season.
Aside from that 17-2 Colorado State run that made things interesting at the 12:15 mark, Arkansas dominated this matchup. The Hogs had 28 assists and only 7 turnovers, they won the rebounding battle (46-32), they shot 38-of-73 from the field for 52.1% (including 14-of-28 from 3 for 50.0%) while limiting the Rams to 38.9% overall field goal shooting, they won bench scoring (season-high 38 points to CSU’s 7), and in a game where both teams took care of the basketball Arkansas won the turnover battle (9-7), too. The Hogs came in holding teams to 27.0% in 3-point field goal percentage, but the Rams’ 11-of-23 effort from distance was a bright spot and one reason they were able to hang around midway through the final 20 minutes.
“When you’re on the road, you’ve got to be able to shoot the basketball,” Anderson said during his post-game radio interview. “We knew about runs. We’re a team that plays a game of runs, and when you get that momentum you’ve got to take it as far as you can. Let’s give Colorado State credit, they had some runs of their own. We had a nice lead, you knew that they were going to make a run, and they did make a run.
“But, how about the shooting? We came out, Mason knocking shots down, Isaiah knocking shots down. What a tremendous effort by our team. I thought our energy was really good. You can just see the trust is building in this team … 28 assists on 38 field goals, that’s trusting one another.”
Arkansas, coming off a 121-89 win over Florida International on Saturday to cap five wins in a row at home, had six players in double figures led by sophomore wing Mason Jones’ 16 points, including 3-of-3 shooting on 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the game that gave Arkansas a quick 12-2 lead. Freshman guard and SEC Player of the Week Isaiah Joe and freshman guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson each scored 14 points — combining for 8-of-14 from 3. Sophomore center Daniel Gafford started slow, scoring only 2 first-half points, before finishing with 12 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal. Junior forward Adrio Bailey was active at both ends of the floor for his 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal.
Sophomore point guard Jalen Harris had his second consecutive game with 10-plus assists, registering 12 dimes to go with 8 points, 4 steals, and only 2 turnovers. Freshman forward Reggie Chaney scored 8 of his 11 points in the first half to help pick up the slack for Gafford sitting the bench in foul trouble. Chaney also had 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. Freshman guard Desi Sills had 8 points and 2 assists, and sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien had 5 points and 5 rebounds.
“I thought if we could be physical and get guys in that position to rebound the basketball that we could take that to our advantage” said Anderson, whose team has outrebounded opponents by plus-33 combined in the last three games. “I thought coming off the bench Reggie Chaney kind of started it, then Adrio I thought he kept at it, sometimes you see multiple guys getting rebounds.”
Colorado State of the Mountain West conference lost its fourth consecutive game in dropping to 4-5. The Rams starters came in averaging double-figures each, and each scored in double figures led by J.D. Paige and Kendle Moore, who had 16 points apiece. Former Hog Lorenzo “Doobie” Jenkins did not score in 5 minutes off the bench for the Rams. Arkansas defeated the Colorado State a year ago to the day, 92-66, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Arkansas jumped out to a 12-2 lead behind four made 3-pointers — three by Jones and one by Joe — before using a 13-2 run fueled mostly by the second unit to grab a 27-13 lead. The advantage would swell to 17, 32-15, on a mid-range jumper by Joe. Gafford, who had only 2 first-half points on 2-of-2 free throw shooting, exited the game with two fouls at the 8:07 mark, and the Rams would use a mix of made 3s and free throws to pull within 8, 39-31, with 1:45 to play in the opening 20 minutes. Arkansas closed on a 5-2 run for a 44-33 halftime lead.
Arkansas opened the second half with a 10-1 run — powered by Joe’s back-to-back makes from 3 — for a 54-34 lead. That would grow to 65-43 on a Gafford layup with 14:51 to play, but that 17-2 Colorado State run slashed the deficit down to 67-60 with 12:15 to play. Arkansas’s response was a 13-0 run — Gafford (dunk), Joe (triple), Bailey (lay-up), Harris (jumper), Gafford (dunk), and Jones (layup) — that drove the lead back up to 20, 80-60, with 8:13 to play.
Up next for the Razorbacks is a return to Arkansas to 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 Saturday and Georgia Tech at BWA on Dec. 19. The Razorbacks open up SEC play at Texas A&M on Jan. 5, 2019.