Arkansas freshman Gafford dominates in win over Fresno State
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Despite struggling to stay on the court in Arkansas’ first two games because of foul trouble, 6-foot-11 forward Daniel Gafford showed flashes of potential at times for the Razorbacks.
The immensely talented freshman showed all of college basketball just how dominant he can be when playing a full game on Friday night, scoring 25 points in 30 minutes as Arkansas (3-0) stayed perfect with an 83-75 victory over Fresno State.
Gafford was 9 of 11 from the field in the win, also adding eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals for the Razorbacks, who won their first two games over Samford and Bucknell by an average of 33.5 points.
They led by as many as 19 points in the second half on Friday night before settling for the eight-point victory, with Gafford leading the way in nothing short of a coming-out party in Bud Walton Arena.
“I felt way more comfortable because I’m playing smarter,” Gafford said. “When I was fouling out the first two games, it just clicked in my mind that I need to be better at defense, and that was going to be a weakness to the team if I didn’t get better at defense.”
Jaylen Barford added 18 points, Anton Beard 15 and Daryl Macon 11 for Arkansas, which shot 48.2 percent (27 of 56) in the win.
Bryson Williams led the Bulldogs (2-1) with 22 points on 11-of-15 shooting before fouling out. Deshon Taylor was 10 of 10 on free throws and added 19 points, and Jahmel Taylor added 12 in the loss.
Fresno State shot 59.4 percent (19 of 32) in the second half to close a 19-point Arkansas lead down to as few as six points in the final minute. However, the Bulldogs simply didn’t have enough answers for Gafford — who Fresno State coach Rodney Terry compared to San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge when he was a freshman at Texas.
“He needs to go to the NBA right now,” Terry joked. ”... He’s just a really good young talent who plays with a great motor and is only going to get better and better. I think the sky’s the limit for how good he’s going to be.”
Both teams were sloppy in the early going, with the Bulldogs taking an early lead despite hitting only 4 of their first 17 shots. Barford, though, scored 12 of his points in the first half to help Arkansas recover and push its lead to as many as 15 points in the first half. The senior, who came into the game averaging 21.5 points per game, also added seven rebounds and five assists as the Razorbacks won their third straight game for the fifth time in six years to open the season.
Fresno State: The Bulldogs reached the NIT last season and controlled the action inside for much of the game, outscoring the Razorbacks 20-16 in the paint at one point. However, that was before Gafford took control in the second half and led Arkansas to an eventual 40-36 scoring edge inside.
Arkansas: Gafford struggled to stay on the court in Arkansas’ first two games because of foul trouble, totaling only 17 and 16 minutes in the two, respectively, while fouling out of each. Despite that, the freshman still averaged 12.5 points in those games. On Friday, Gafford played 30 minutes and dominated on both ends of the court while finishing with six dunks — including a spectacular alley-oop from Beard in the second half. “Every game, he’s going to learn,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “His team needed him to be out there, and I thought he played a lot smarter.”
Fresno State returns home to host Evansville on Tuesday.
The Razorbacks face Oklahoma in the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon on Thursday.
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt_Voigt_AP