FAYETTEVILLE - So much for balanced scoring.
For just as the Arkansas Razorbacks don’t prevail 95-93 back in their Dec. 30 SEC season opening overtime victory over Tennessee without senior guards Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford combining for 61 points at Walton Arena, they don’t net their first SEC road game victory, 80-77 in double overtime over the Georgia Bulldogs Tuesday night in Athens, Ga. without the Macon and Barford combine for 49.
The out of balance disparity between Macon, 33 points against Tennessee and 25 against Georgia, and Barford, 28 against Tennessee and 24 against Georgia while celebrating his 22nd birthday in Athens rallying the Hogs from down 16 during the first half, may be out of balance with others on a coach’s ideal stat sheet, but Mike Anderson takes them gladly. Especially since they now balance Arkansas’ early 1-3 deficit SEC book at 4-4 while the Razorbacks take a 15-6 overall mark into Saturday’s 5 p.m. ESPN2 televised SEC/Big 12 Challenge game at Walton Arena against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Besides, while the Razorbacks don’t win their SEC opener and their latest SEC game without Macon and Barford, Macon and Barford don’t win those games without help.
Senior guard and North Little Rock High grad Anton Beard was vital in both games. He netted 10 points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal logging 42 minutes against Tennessee. At Athens he scored eight points, including Arkansas’ last bucket in regulation, with four rebounds and four assists despite playing on an ankle ailing since last week’s game at Florida.
“How about Beard?” Anderson asked rhetorically on postgame radio. “He probably had one of the bigger shots going down the stretch. Anton’s playing with a bum ankle. But he played with everything he had.”
Against Tennessee, Arkansas 6-11 freshman phenom forward Daniel Gafford of El Dorado scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked five shots.
Gafford roared into Athens Tuesday as the SEC Freshman of the Week. He had posted his first collegiate double, 14 points and 11 rebounds, in last week’s 88-73 SEC loss at Florida and excelled with 15 points, nine rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals in last Saturday’s 97-93 SEC success over Ole Miss at Walton.
However against Georgia’s long-limbed SEC leading defense paced by Yante Maten, the SEC Preseason Player of the Year, Gafford suddenly flopped about like a freshman fish out of water.
Just one of those games. He was scoreless with three rebounds in 27 minutes.
Senior big men Dustin Thomas and Trey Thompson more than compensated for Gafford’s rare off night.
Benched against Ole Miss, “Coach’s decision” Anderson explained for not playing his normally starting 6-8 forward, Thomas emerged for 29 key minutes in Athens. He supplied eight points, two steals and a rebound.
Even with Macon and Barford starring, Thompson, the 6-9 Madison native and Forrest City native, was postgame radio’s star of the game. Thompson only scored three points in his 29 minutes but his four rebounds tied Beard as Aransas’ leader, made two steals and recorded Arkansas’ lone two shot-blocks. The second one made him radio’s star.
Georgia only trailed 78-77 when Maten, spectacular with 26 points and 15 rebounds, from in close attempted what could have been the game-winning shot with two seconds left. Thompson blocked it. The ball caromed off Maten out of bounds. That allowed Arkansas to inbound to Macon for the game-sealing free throws.
“That’s as big a play as Trey’s made in his four years here,” Matt Zimmerman, the Razorbacks’ radio analyst, director of basketball operations and former assistant coach, said.
“That block by Trey, that was big, because he (Maten) was right there at the basket,” Anderson said. “Not only to block it but for us to come up with the basketball.”
It wouldn’t have happened without Beard’s help, Thompson said.
“I kind of lost Maten there at the end,” Thompson said. “But Anton was there for the help and he gave me little split second to come back and recover and I got the block and it was out of bounds on him. He (Maten) is a great player. He had big numbers tonight but my team came out on top and I think we were a little bit better than they were.”
Maten, as big a man in defeat as he was big on the court, gave Thompson his due.
“It was a clean block,” Maten said. “He made a really good play for them.”