FAYETTEVILLE - Since five Razorbacks scored from 10 to 19 points and he wasn’t among them, it’s easy to overlook Daniel Gafford’s contribution to Arkansas’ 95-68 victory over the California State University-Bakersfield Road Runners last Wednesday night at Walton Arena.
But Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson took immediate postgame note of the 6-11 freshman forward from El Dorado.
The only field goals that Gafford tallied on a 2 for 7 from the field and 2 for 4 from the line 6-point scoring night were his dunks erasing CSBU’s lone lead, 3-0, into a 4-3 deficit starting a 10-0 Razorbacks run. But he packed a game-leading 12 rebounds and also blocked a shot and made a steal in 22 minutes.
“I was glad to see Daniel go to the glass,” Anderson said. “You always kind of judge players in terms of how they play when they're not scoring. Of course tonight wasn't a scoring night for Daniel, but he did other things to help us win.”
In Arkansas’ previous game, a 104-69 rout over the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles on Dec. 19 at Walton, Gafford, while scoring 12 points in 22 minutes, discovered so many Golden Eagles collapsing on him that four times he kicked it out to to the open man to achieve four assists.
“He’s learning on the fly,” Anderson said postgame ORU of the former highest rated high school player in Arkansas. “That’s how you learn. I’m sure in high school, people double-teamed and triple-teamed him, but the difference here is you have some guys that can finish for him. Dustin Thomas did a good job of slicing to the hole. I think he hit Arlando Cook a couple of times.”
Starting senior forward Thomas and senior reserve forward Cook also earned Anderson’s praise Wednesday for their performance against CSUB.
Thomas scored all 10 of his points in the first half which the Hogs desperately needed, leading only 42-38 at intermission after the Road Runners ran down an 11-point Arkansas lead to tie it 38-38.
Anderson said Cook played good defense in his 10 minutes while hitting a bucket and grabbing two rebounds.
“Dustin Thomas probably played one of his better games here,” Anderson said. “I thought he was really engaged defensively, offensively. He played with a lot of confidence. In the first half I thought he was a difference maker. I thought he was the one guy who was actually making some plays and making some shots. We had some nice looks. We just didn't make shots. In the second half our defense picked up, we got in a rhythm and we made shots. Some of the guys on our bench that didn’t play that well in the first half in the second half kind of lifted it up. Arlando Cook getting in there played really well for us. Darious Hall continues to play with a lot of energy.”
Freshman forward Hall of Little Rock Mills scored a career high 14 points off the bench against CSUB.
Senior reserve big man Trey Thompson, the Madison native and Forrest City High grad, played big off the bench against CSUB with Gafford limited briefly in the first half by an injury he shook off and then foul-troubled afflicted.
Senior guards Anton Beard of North Little Rock, 15 points including successive threes when the Razorbacks spurted away early in the second half, and Daryl Macon 16 points with eight assists vs. zero turnovers, also posted outstanding games.
However no Razorback, said Rod Barnes, the CSUB coach who was 4-4 against the Razorbacks in Walton when he coached Ole Miss from 1998-2006, impacted Wednesday’s second half like senior guard Jaylen Barford. Barford scored 12 of his game-high 19 points in the second half.
“I thought we did a great job with our defensive strategy on him in the first half,” Barnes said. “But he came out the second half and his team is in need, and basically he takes over the game. He made the plays that gave them some room. Whenever they needed a play, he made it.”
The Razorbacks, 10-2 and convincingly and consecutively winning five since they last lost, Dec. 2 to the Houston Cougars in Houston, seem off to a great start.
But it all reverts to 0-0 facing the 19th-ranked 9-2 Tennessee Volunteers in Saturday’s noon SEC Network televised SEC opener for both teams at a sold-out Walton Arena.