FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas’ senior leadership has been questioned with the Razorbacks’ inability to win a true road game plus the embarrassing 75-54 loss Jan. 10 at home to LSU.
So it was a sincerely serious joking matter when Razorbacks Jaylen Barford and Daniel Gafford playfully disparaged yet truly paid respect to ailing seniors Anton Beard and Trey Thompson contributing to Saturday’s 97-93 SEC success over the Ole Miss Rebels before an 18,000-plus packed Walton Arena.
During the first half of Arkansas’ 88-73 SEC loss last Wednesday at Florida, Beard (ankle), and Thompson (hamstring) exited with injuries and did not play again.
Against Ole Miss, starting guard and North Little Rock High grad Beard started and logged 30 minutes. He dished five assitss with two steals and two rebounds against a turnover, and of his seven points hit 2 of 2 among Arkansas’ 27 for 35 free throws and hit a 3-pointer and one desperate deuce with the shot clock expiring.
Thompson, the 6-9 Madison native and Forrest City High grad alternating with Gafford, El Dorado’s 6-11 freshman sensation, logged the 12 minutes that Gafford rested and contributed four rebounds and a bucket for his lone shot.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson on Thursday deemed the only two 4-year seniors of his 6-man senior class “questionable” to play against Ole Miss and fretted their availability practically to Saturday’s tip-off.
Their coach needn’t have worried, senior guard Barford and Gafford scoffed.
““I wasn't surprised,” Barford said. “They are seniors and they know how crucial our senior year is. ‘Ton has always been tough and Trey has been tough, too.”
Then Barford smiled.
“I don’t really think they were that hurt to be honest,” Barford said. “They look all right to me.”
Gafford smiled, too.
“They were probably faking,” Gafford said before paying homage. “But really it tells me they have a tough mentality.”
Anderson said he knew they are tough but also knew they ailed not to play again in Gainesville, Fla. though both during intermission tried to prepare for a second-half return.
“There's no way I thought Trey would come out and give us the 12 minutes he gave us,” Anderson said. “It was like a game-time decision before he went out there.”
Pretty much the same with Beard.
“I didn't even think Anton Beard would have a chance,” Anderson said. “But that tells you a lot about those guys, being here for four years. They felt obligated to their team to try to get as well as they could. They weren't 100 percent, but I thought their presence on the floor was very, very important to our basketball team.”
From the start Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy noticed Beard’s contribution to “the sense of urgency” he saw in the Razorbacks’ first half that Arkansas peaked 50-34 before the 50-38 intermission.
“Anton Beard, who we didn't even know was going to play based on his injury played heavy minutes for them and made a great contribution,” Kennedy said.
Arkansas, 13-6 overall, needed Saturday’s success just to be 3-4 in the SEC with its next three SEC games on the road starting with Tuesday night’s 5:30 (CST) SEC Network televised visit to the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens.
So even when their stars shined, Barford scored 23 points with five rebounds, four assists and three steals vs. three turnovers, senior guard Daryl Macon off the bench scored 20 points including 11 of 12 free throws and dished six assists against two turnovers, and Gafford tallied 15 points with nine rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots, the Razorbacks against the fiercely competitive Rebels needed a cast of best supporting actors.
Freshman guard Darious Hall, 11 points and a stunning 8 for 8 free throws, sophomore guard C.J. Jones, 11 points including 3 of 5 threes, and forwards Adrio Bailey and Arlando Cook, a combined 4 for 5 eight points, three assists and Cook’s three rebounds and Bailey’s shot block, proved essential.
Kennedy praised them then added a truism.
“Your role players typically play better at home,” Kennedy said.
That certainly applies to these homebody Hogs. They require the sense of urgency that Kennedy saw Saturday in Walton to disprove his truism again applying Tuesday night in Athens.