By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas made a fierce comeback to cut a late 15-point deficit down to 2, but the Florida Gators held on while continuing their regular-season mastery of the Razorbacks, winning for the third consecutive time at Bud Walton Arena, 57-51, on Wednesday as both teams now sit 1-1 in SEC play.
Florida (9-5) has not lost to Arkansas (10-4) in the regular season in nearly 6 years. The Hogs did end an 8-0 losing skid against the Gators, 80-72, in the 2018 SEC tournament in St. Louis, but the last time Arkansas won a regular-season game against Florida also marked its last home win against the Gators, 80-69, on Feb. 5, 2013.
Florida snapped Arkansas’s 3-game winning streak as the Hogs lost for the third time at BWA this season. The loss also dropped Anderson-led Arkansas teams to 2-10 against Florida.
“We talk about the sense of urgency in conference games and every game is going to have a different adventure,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “We saw where we didn’t show up with that sense of urgency in the first half and allowed Florida to get a cushion that went up even bigger in the second half. In the first half we turned the ball over 12 times and so you talk about experience vs. inexperience, you saw that tonight on display.
“We had a very energetic crowd and a good opponent. Defensively they are good but I talk about with so many new faces it was was one of those bumps we talk about. We are going to have those bumps throughout the year and that was a bump. So hopefully we can get over it and learn from it.”
North Little Rock native and senior guard KeVaughn Allen — he had a team-high 18 points — made two free throws to push Florida’s two-point lead to 55-51 with 12 seconds remaining, then he rebounded sophomore wing Mason Jones’s miss from 3 and made two more free throws for the final margin — all after Jones (who scored a career-high 30 points) spearheaded a 15-2 Arkansas run, including a 2-of-2 free throw trip that pulled the Hogs within 53-51 with 1:02 remaining in the game.
Sophomore center Daniel Gafford rebounded a Florida miss, and Arkansas called a timeout with 33.1 seconds remaining and still trailing 53-51. But Jones missed on a drive into the paint, and junior forward Adrio Bailey missed at point-blank range after an offensive rebound as Florida secured the ball and sealed the win with Allen’s free throws.
Neither team shot well — Florida was 18-of-58 for 31.0% compared to Arkansas’s 15-of-50 for 30.0%, and the teams were an identical 6-of-26 from 3 for 23.1%.
But, Florida was better at the free throw line (15-of-19 for 78.9% compared to Arkansas’s 15-of-26 for 57.7%), the Gators won the turnover battle (16-12 for plus-4) which was crucial in helping them get eight more shot attempts and three more makes than the Razorbacks, and Florida won bench scoring 10-0 as Arkansas’s reserves went scoreless for the first time since the program’s first season in the SEC (1991-92).
Both teams had 10 offensive rebounds, although Arkansas did win the overall rebounding battle, 42-39.
Allen, who’s now 6-1 against Arkansas, was only 3-of-11 shooting (including 1-of-9 from 3) but his 11-of-12 free throw effort was the catalyst in his team’s win. Freshman guard Noah Locke had 10 points for Florida.
Jones was 7-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-9 from 3, plus 12-of-13 from the free throw line for his 30 points. The rest of the Razorbacks were a dismal 8-of-37 from the field (21.6%) including 2-of-17 from 3 (11.8%) and 3-of-13 on freebies (23.1%).
Gafford and freshman guard Isaiah Joe had both scored in double-figures in each of the Hogs’ first 13 games, but both failed to do so against Florida. Gafford finished with 9 points (3-of-4 field goals and 3-of-6 free throws) and a game-high 12 rebounds, while Joe had 6 points (2-of-10 shooting including 2-of-9 from 3, plus 0-of-1 free throws) to go with 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
Gafford, who was one point shy of his fourth consecutive double-double and his third in as many games played against Florida, logged only 27 minutes with foul trouble, and after he left game with his fourth foul at the 9:44 mark Florida scored 5 quick points for its biggest lead of the game, 48-32, with 9:13 remaining.
Florida led 51-36 with 6:11 to go when Jones scored 11 points in the Hogs’ 15-2 run that pulled them within 53-51 heading into the final minute.
“When you start off you have to start off with great energy,” Anderson said. “We started off scoring inside early on. Dan scored a couple of buckets and then we kind of got away from it. And so I’ll take the blame for that. We’ve got to do better in terms of really continuing to get involved and moving around. But we’ve got to get the ball to him and quite frankly we didn’t shoot the ball well.
“We had open shots. We didn’t make them. I never saw so many airballs. I don’t know if it was nerves or what it was, but I’ve never seen so many airballs.But give our guys credit. we we were down 16 and we had the ball with 20 or 30 or some seconds with an opportunity to tie or go ahead in the game. We had two shots. Mason’s shot off balance and Adrio had one there point blank. But again you are trying to climb that hill up and you expend so much energy.
“Our bench, you talk about it being consistent. I say it’s going to be a strong component of our basketball team but they did not score a point. They played hard but they did not score a point tonight. So when you have all those things take place, it’s kind of a mountain you’ve got to climb. We didn’t get it done. So give Florida credit. They are a good defensive team. But for us to score 51 points at home, that’s something we’ve got to get better at.”
Arkansas jumped out to a 4-0 lead as Gafford went to work inside early, but the Gators held him to only 1 more point for the remainder of the first half.
Florida’s 10-0 run gave the Gators a 12-6 lead at the 10-minute mark, and the Hogs would go scoreless for 7:38 of game time before Gafford’s 1-of-2 trip to the free throw line with 8:20 left before halftime.
Jones made back-to-back 3-point baskets during an 11-6 Hogs’ spurt that pulled them within 18-17 at the 5:30 mark, but Gators’ freshman guard Andrew Nebhart sparked a 15-5 run with 6 consecutive points as Florida grabbed it’s biggest lead, 33-22, at the break.
Jones scored 13 first-half points (3-of-6 field goals including 2-of-5 from 3, plus 5-of-6 free throws) for the Razorbacks, while Allen notched 11 points (2-of-6 field goals including 0-of-4 from 3, plus 7-of-8 free throws) to pace the Gators in the first 20 minutes.
Arkansas shot 7-of-25 from the field (28.0%), including 2-of-14 from 3 (14.3%), and 6-of-10 from the free throw line (60.0%). Florida wasn’t much better: 10-of-32 field goals (31.3%), including 3-of-16 from 3 (18.8%), and 10-of-12 free throws (83.3%).
Arkansas was competitive on the glass (minus-1 at 21-20), but a turnover deficit of 12-7 minimized Arkansas’s scoring opportunities.
Next up for the Hogs is LSU at Bud Walton Arena at 5 p.m. CT on Saturday before going on the road next week against No. 3 Tennessee and Ole Miss. Those three SEC teams are currently a collective 5-0 in SEC play.