Second-half surge carries Arkansas past Austin Peay 76-65
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Keyshawn Embery-Simpson was ready when Arkansas men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson pointed to him Friday night, and the freshman delivered his best game of the season.
Embery-Simpson scored all 14 of his points over the final 10 minutes to help Arkansas rally past Austin Peay 76-65 on Friday in the final nonconference game of the season for both teams.
“I just came in confident,” Embery-Simpson said. “Coach just said when your jersey is called, be ready to play, so that’s what I was doing. Just being confident and aggressive on both ends.”
Embery-Simpson fueled a 20-5 Arkansas run that turned a 52-48 deficit into a 68-57 Razorback advantage. Embery-Simpson scored 12 during the run, including seven straight Arkansas points, and capped the rally with a 3-pointer with 4:12 left in the game, helping the Razorbacks (9-3) battle through foul trouble and a scrappy Austin Peay team that outrebounded Arkansas 42-34.
As a high school junior at Midwest City, Oklahoma, Embery-Simpson averaged 26 points per game before transferring to IMG Academy for his senior season. On Friday he matched his career-high in scoring and said he’s starting to get comfortable after battling through injuries.
“I knew it was just going to take time,” he said. “Just trying to get back to how I was on both ends and conditioning-wise, and all-around just so I can have confidence.”
Anderson, who does not have a senior on the roster, said the Razorbacks are starting to turn the corner just in time for the start of conference play.
“I thought we saw some guys tonight, especially young guys, who were out there tonight when the game was on the line and they were out there making plays,” Anderson said. “Offensively, defensively, sharing the basketball. To me it’s a growth in our team and that’s what’s needed. This team here, what you see right now, by late January it will be a totally different team.”
The Governors (8-5) led 50-46 midway through the second half when Arkansas’ leading scorer, Daniel Gafford, landed awkwardly in the lane and hit the floor with a right ankle injury. Gafford was helped to the bench and went to the locker room for a brief period before returning to the game. His dunk off a Reggie Chaney feed gave the Razorbacks the lead for good at 54-52.
Gafford led the Razorbacks with 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Jabari McGee helped the Governors rally to pull within 68-62, scoring five of his 10 points, but the Razorbacks locked down the win on Jalen Harris’ 3-pointer from the left wing, just his third 3-pointer of the season in almost 30 attempts, giving Arkansas a 71-62 lead with 1:48 left.
“That was a dagger,” said Austin Peay coach Matt Figger, who compared Harris to former Arkansas guard Jabril Durham. “That’s not what he does. That guy (Durham) never shot, but when he made one, it was like, alright, what do you do? And that’s the role (Harris) has taken on. I’d be real happy with that because Jabril Durham was a heck of a point guard here.”
Arkansas led 34-33 at halftime as Isaiah Joe scored 12 of his 15 points including four 3-pointers. Joe, who sat out the final 4:34 of the first half after picking up two fouls in the span of 21 seconds, hit his first three 3-point attempts, then later drilled his fourth to give the Razorbacks a 26-23 lead with 7:08 left in the first half.
Austin Peay took a 29-28 lead on a pair of free throws by Terry Taylor and could have extended the lead further, but missed the front end of three straight one-and-ones in the final minutes of the half.
Steve Harris scored 15 points to lead Austin Peay and Dayton Gumm added 10.
Arkansas dropped a pair of home games to Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech and was on the verge of another home loss before the second-half rally. The Razorbacks were able to pull this one out and will carry that momentum into the start of Southeastern Conference play when they return from the holiday break.
HE SAID IT
“When Daniel came back in, it definitely gave us a lift, especially on the rebounds and inside presence,” Arkansas freshman Reggie Chaney, who scored 12 points, said of Daniel Gafford. “I think it gave us some energy.”
Arkansas had seven turnovers in the first half, but finished the game with 11. . The Governors made just four 3-pointers in the game and only one in the second half. . Joe got the Razorbacks off to a quick start when he drained a 3-pointer to open the game. . The loss ended a six-game win streak for Austin Peay. . The win moves Arkansas’ record against the Governors to 4-0 all-time.
Austin Peay: The Governors are off until Thursday when they host Eastern Kentucky in the Ohio Valley Conference opener.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks return to action on Jan. 5 when they open SEC play on the road at Texas A&M.