NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas freshman guard Isaiah Joe hit four 3-pointers in the first half, but a number of passive possessions stood out to coach Mike Anderson. After picking up his third turnover at the 16:41 mark in the second half, Anderson benched his high-volume scorer.
A tough decision Saturday night considering the Razorbacks then had a slim three-point lead over an unexpected upset threat in UTSA.
“They were just careless mistakes, to be honest with you,” Joe said. “You’re going to have those games. You just have to bounce back from it.”
Joe did bounce back, hitting his fifth triple to bring the nearly 12,500 who attended the Razorbacks’ annual North Little Rock game to their feet. More importantly, the Fort Smith native was 6-of-6 shooting from the free-throw line in the final minute of Arkansas’ 79-67 victory over UTSA.
“He was better in the second half than he was in the first half,” Anderson said. “My job right now is to challenge some of these guys to take it to that level. … I thought he did. He showed composure with that.”
Joe’s 12 first-half points served as a surprising juxtaposition to forward Daniel Gafford, who registered only two points before the break. The NBA draft prospect was taller than any player on the Roadrunners’ roster, and had a clear advantage from a physical standpoint. A combination of UTSA’s low-post defense and a “sluggish” start played a part in his woes, Anderson said.
Still, a strong second-half effort on both sides of the ball propelled Gafford to a 13-point, 14-rebound double-double. The number of boards a career high.
“He needed to do that,” Anderson said. “He wasn’t very good that first half. I’m being straight up. He’s that target now. People are really getting after him and getting physical with him.”
Arkansas (7-3) freshman forward Reggie Chaney had perhaps his best game of his career, scoring 11 points with four assists and three blocks. He was crucial in keeping the Roadrunners (3-7) from building on several second-half leads, UTSA coach Steve Henson said.
Jhivvan Jackson led UTSA with 20 points before fouling out late in the second half. Keaton Wallace added 18 points.
“We kept getting switched,” Henson said. “Jackson and Keith Wallace typically just blow by big guys in those situations or freeze them and shoot it. They couldn’t do that with him.”
Arkansas guard Jalen Harris said Chaney consistently and successfully switches on guards in practice.
“I’m not going to lie, Reggie sits down on guards. … I’ve seen it firsthand in practice,” Harris said. “He’s sat down on me a couple times, so we just expect him each and every night if he has to make that switch.”
Harris came into the game ranked seventh in the country and first in the Southeastern Conference in assists per game. He added 11 points and 10 assists, and didn’t turn the ball over in a team-high 34 minutes of action.
“I turn it over more in practice than I do in a game, so (Anderson) just tells me to be careful with it,” Harris said. “Be aggressive, but stay smart. I try to do that.”
Arkansas: In the first half, the Hogs relied on shots outside the paint, but Gafford was limited to two points. In the second half, their outside touch disappeared, but penetration opened up the lane and low post, and Gafford and Chaney showed an ability to be a one-two punch down low. . Harris’ 10 assists were the most registered by a Razorback in Verizon Arena, and Gafford’s 14 rebounds tied Moses Kingsley for the most in the building.
UTSA: The Roadrunners came into the game shooting 31.1 percent on 3s, and they went 8-for-29 shooting from deep Saturday night. Despite Arkansas doing a relatively solid job defensively from the perimeter, Jackson and Wallace attempted many step-back, isolation 3-pointers. They combined to shoot 7 for 23 from long range. . Senior forward Nick Allen held his own against Gafford, but once the Razorbacks focused on getting the ball inside during the second half, the Arizona native had a tough time staying out of foul trouble.
The Razorbacks have won their last three North Little Rock games.
UTSA hosts Bethany College on Monday.
Arkansas hosts Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
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