Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Following a first half filled with sprees of threes, Arkansas took the inside path via sophomore center Daniel Gafford and sophomore point guard Jalen Harris in the second half to bludgeon the Montana State Bobcats, 90-68 Wednesday night at Walton Arena.
Arkansas sophomore guard Mason Jones hit 5 of 7 first-half threes, including three while scoring 10 points by 16:11 before a 16-0 Razorbacks run peaked Arkansas’ first half lead at 32-7.
Upon that, Montana State senior guard Tyler Hall sizzled. Hall hit 7 of 12 first-half threes and scored 23 first-half points cutting the lead down to 14 before Arkansas ledk 54-38 at intermission.
In the second half, with Jones adding only two from his 16 first-half points and Hall 0 for 3 on second-half threes adding just six second -half points for his game high 29, Arkansas 6-11 sophomore Gafford of El Dorado hit 5 for 5 from the second half field finishing a 8 for 8 night tying his own school record in game shooting percentage while scoring and scored 16 points with seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
Excelling both halves but especially finding Gafford in the second half sophomore point guard Harris double-doubled on points and assists with 11 of each against but one turnover in 25 minutes.
Razorbacks Adrio Bailey, the junior forward hitting 5 for 5 from the field inside, and freshman guard Isaiah Joe of Fort Smith Northside even on a 4 for 13 with 2 for 10 on treys off shooting night, scored 10 each.
Joe and freshman reserve guard Desi Sills each contributed five assists among Arkansas’ 29 for the game.
Freshman reserve forward Reggie Chaney, eight points and five rebounds i 18 minutes, played so well in the first half that Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson rewarded him with a second half start.
Coupled with last week’s 81-58 victory over California-Davis and Sunday’s 73-72 victory over Indiana, also both at Walton, Anderson’s 3-1 Razorbacks are 3-0 in this far flung Hardwood Classic which concludes with Arkansas hosting the University of Texas-Arlington Mavericks at 7 p.m. Friday at Walton.
UTA lost 78-64 Tuesday night at Indiana. Montana State, now 1-5, lost its Hardwood Classic game to Indiana, 80-35 on Nov. 9 in Bloomington, Ind.
Arkansas fears that the Razorbacks were too emotionally high from Sunday’s 73-72 thriller over prestigious Indiana properly to concentrate against Montana State, were immediately allayed by Arkansas’ hot start.
“ Really proud of the energy that these guys generated today,” Anderson said postgame. “They generated it early on because they made shots but I thought our defense was really on point, really making it difficult for Montana State. Eventually they (the Bobcats) found a nice little groove and of course a lot of that effort is attributed to the Hall kid. He was hitting them from out at Al Dillard range.”
Dillard was the off he bench shoot it from the Hogs’ snout 3-point bomber on the Walton floor when Anderson assistant coached for Nolan Richardson’s 1994 national championship team. “He started really knocking down shots but I thought in the second half we did a better job really adjusting and making him continue to work.”
Hall sizzled that first half but burned a lot of energy those 18 minutes hard minutes that caught up to him in the second half.
It also helped that Anderson pointedly put out an intermission APB regarding Hall’s second half whereabouts.
“Coach said we had to find him,” Harris said. “We changed up our defense a little bit. We knew we had to find him every time down the court because that’s who they were trying to get it to.”
Obviously they found Jones finding the 3-point range in the first half.
“He started out really on fire,” Anderson said. “He was knocking shots down and making nice assists.”
Like Hall, Jones was too first half hot not to cool down in the second half but still played a role, Anderson said with his second half minutes cut to eight from the first half’s 13 with Friday night’s game looming
“Even the second half I thought he did a good job distributing it to other guys,” Anderson said. “ He played 21 minutes with 18 points.”
Harris remarked, “Mason has a nose for the ball, so if you (on defense) are not following him or have your head on a swivel he’s going to get open. And if he gets open then it’s trouble.”
And with Gafford it was big big trouble for the Bobcats with the Razorbacks finding him down low.
“It’s ridiculous,” Harris, the sophomore transfer from the University of New Mexico, said of Gafford shooting 31 of 41 for Arkansas’ four games. “You get it to him down there and you know there’s a good possibility he’ll make them, so you keep feeding him.”
And assists come with it.
“Jalen Harris, I told him before the year, ‘You are going to be one of the top assists leaders in the country, man,” Anderson said. “You’ve got a big guy with great hands. I think they are starting to connect. I think Daniel is connecting with all of our guys and they know what he brings to the table. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
The offense was initiated by defense. Arkansas outscored the Bobcats 29-9 off turnovers forcing 24 Montana State miscues and committing 14 while playing no starter beyond Joe’s 27 minutes and Harris’ 25 minutes.
“ The bench guys came in and I thought they played really, really well,” Anderson said.