Gafford scores 21 points, grabs 10 rebounds, blocks seven shots.
FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ six seniors had their moments, but a freshman stole the show on senior night.
In what fans hope wasn’t his last game at Bud Walton Arena, potential one-and-doner Daniel Gafford threw down seven dunks and notched his second double-double in the Razorbacks’ 91-82 win over SEC-leader Auburn on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-11 freshman from El Dorado made 10 of his 15 shots and finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He also matched a career high with seven blocks.
“He’s a force to be reckoned with,” senior Daryl Macon said. “I think he’s the best big man in the country. I haven’t seen anybody better than him when he comes to play.”
Two of Gafford’s dunks came in the first minute of the second half as Arkansas pushed its lead to 19 points. The No. 14 Tigers managed to get within six late in the game, but they missed their last four shots and the Razorbacks made just enough free throws to preserve the victory.
It was a dominant performance that avenged an 11-point loss earlier in the year and likely punched Arkansas’ ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, while simultaneously preventing Auburn from clinching its first SEC title since 1999.
“I think the game was kind of personal because they beat us the first time we played them,” senior Jaylen Barford said. “They had to come here and it was our senior night as well, so we just came out dialed in and ready to play.”
Despite not making shots at his normal rate, Barford still posted the first double-double of his career – nearly matching Gafford’s numbers. He finished with 20 points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
The last time multiple Razorbacks reached those totals in the same game was in 1991, when Todd Day and Oliver Miller did it against No. 1 UNLV.
The contribution from Barford helped Arkansas edge Auburn – the No. 54 team nationally in rebounding margin – 39-37 on the boards, just a week after he had one rebound against Kentucky and the Razorbacks were out-rebounded by 17.
“I challenged him,” head coach Mike Anderson said. “He’s capable of doing that and when the guards rebound, it puts us in position to win the rebounding war.”
Barford’s step back jumper – one of his signature moves – with about eight minutes left put him over the 1,000-point mark for his career. That came less than 10 minutes after Macon joined the 1,000-point club with a three-pointer.
“That’s very rare that guys can come in and do it in the same game,” Anderson said. “That’s the weird thing about it.”
They are the sixth and seventh players to score 1,000 points in just two seasons, joining Martin Terry, Scotty Thurman, Day, Dusty Hannahs and Bobby Portis.
Macon finished with only 16 points, but did it on 6-of-7 shooting that included a perfect 4 of 4 from three-point range. The Razorbacks other four seniors combined for 22 points, led by 11 from Anton Beard and a season-high seven from Arlando Cook.
They needed all of those points because Auburn, who came into the day with a one-game lead on Tennessee for first place in the SEC, would not go away quietly.
Every time Arkansas started to build a lead, the Tigers fought back to make it a game. They typically did it by getting to the free throw line, where they made 31 of 34 attempts.
However, the Razorbacks held them well below their season average beyond the arc. Auburn made only 7 of 28 three-point shots (25 percent) after shooting 55 percent against Arkansas back in January.
It all led to a storybook ending for the Razorbacks’ six seniors, who were individually subbed out of – or into, in Cook’s case – the game in the closing seconds. Each received a standing ovation from the crowd of 13,898 fans, many of whom stuck around until the end.
“To the fans, I’m at a loss for words,” Macon said. “Even when it’s not sold out in here, it’s electrifying. Out of al the places I could have went, if I could do it all over again, I would still choose Arkansas.”
Arkansas’ regular season concludes Saturday with a trip to Missouri. Tip off is scheduled for 5 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN2.