Arkansas wins its SEC opener, holds off Texas A&M, 73-71
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — The fourth time proved the charm for Arkansas opening Southeastern Conference play at Texas A&M.
Jalen Harris scored 15 points and Desi Sills added 14 as Arkansas held on for a 73-71 victory at A&M in the teams’ Southeastern Conference opener on Saturday. The Razorbacks (10-3, 1-0 SEC) won for the first time in four tries in SEC openers at A&M (6-6, 0-1) over seven seasons.
“It just seems like this is an annual deal,” said Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, who has expressed his displeasure with the league office for the unbalanced slate. “But this was a game for the fans - it went down to the wire.”
The teams traded leads for much of the second half before Arkansas heated up from long range. Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe and then Jones again coolly drained 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions starting with about five minutes left in the game.
The last lifted Arkansas to a 62-59 lead with 4:11 remaining, and the Razorbacks added to it with another 3-pointer from Jones with 3:23 left. That gave Arkansas an insurmountable 65-59 lead.
“I knew we had another run in us,” Jones said of the Razorbacks’ late surge. “I knew I was going to pick it up.”
Arkansas started the second half missing 13 of its first 14 3-point attempts, and finished 10 of 33 from long range overall.
Even when Jones missed a 3-pointer during that hot stretch, as he did with 2:04 remaining, Gabe Osabuohien was there to snag the rebound on a possession capped by a Harris driving layup in the paint.
“We’re a young team, but we got our first (win) under our belt on the road, so that’s pretty big,” Harris said.
Jones was 3-of-11 from the 3-point line overall, but made the long-range offerings when it counted most. Arkansas led 32-31 at halftime on the strength of Sills’ 13 points in the first 20 minutes. The Aggies also missed eight of their nine 3-point attempts in the first half, in leading only briefly in that span.
“We played hard and we gave ourselves a chance to win, we just didn’t make enough plays,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.
Daniel Gafford collected his seventh double-double this season with 11 points and 11 rebounds for Arkansas.
Texas A&M’s TJ Starks led all scorers with 23 points to tie a career high, and Savion Flagg snagged a game-high 15 rebounds.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks were upset about opening SEC play at A&M for the fourth time in seven seasons, and they had reason to be with the lopsided scheduling. It didn’t matter on Saturday, however, with Jones’ long-range shooting late in the game. Arkansas was picked to finish 10th in league play, but as Harris pointed out, it was big to win the opener on the road.
A&M: The Aggies needed this one in a big way, and not simply because it was their SEC opener. They were coming off an 88-73 home loss to Texas Southern, a stunning setback that snapped a five-game win streak. They’re on the road for their next two, and are looking at starting 0-3 square in the eyes.
A&M hits the road for the first time this season in SEC action in playing at No. 13 Kentucky on Tuesday night.
Arkansas plays at home for the first time in league competition in playing host to Florida on Wednesday night.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Harris finished with nine assists and zero turnovers in efficiently sparking the Razorbacks attack.
A&M’s Josh Nebo skied to block an Isaiah Joe layup, but the Razorbacks’ Osabuohien snagged the blocked ball in the air and put it in the basket in one smooth motion to give Arkansas a 12-4 lead early.
HE SAID IT
“We were fortunate, and that’s what you have to be on the road in the SEC.”