Three-Point Play: Gafford shines as Hogs hold off Fresno State

Freshman breaks out with 25-point performance in 83-75 win

By Bart Pohlman

It wasn’t as resounding as Arkansas’ first two wins of the season over Samford and Bucknell, but at the end of the day, the Hogs came away with an 83-75 win to improve to 3-0 on the season with a trip to Portland for the PK80 tournament looming.

Freshman big man Daniel Gafford was the man for the Hogs on Friday, scoring a career-high 25 points in his third collegiate game. Senior guard Jaylen Barford added 18 points and seven rebounds, while Anton Beard chipped in with 15 points.

Here are some observations on the Hogs’ win:

1. When it’s all said and done, Arkansas fans may well look back on this as Daniel Gafford’s breakout performance—the game in which they first saw his full potential on display. And it was something to behold. The freshman finished a team-high plus-19, and led the Hogs with 25 points and eight rebounds. Gafford was efficient, too, shooting 9-of-11 from the field with six of the makes coming on dunks.

After fouling out of his first two games, Gafford was able to stay out of foul trouble, committing just three in 30 minutes. He only had one turnover while also adding three blocks and two steals. If Gafford can continue his development at this rapid pace, Arkansas becomes that much more dangerous of a team. A Razorback squad with Barford, Daryl Macon and Gafford as its top three options has potential to cause problems for anybody.

2. Depth at forward is going to be critical. To close out the game on offense, Arkansas went small, with Beard, Barford, Macon, CJ Jones and Gafford on the court (Adrio Bailey subbed in on defense). And really, it was out of necessity. Trey Thompson had one of his worst games in a Razorback uniform, posting a minus-10 with three points, one rebound, four turnovers and four fouls. Meanwhile, Dustin Thomas and Arlando Cook were both still suspended and didn’t play. (When asked whether Thomas would return from suspension for the PK80, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said, “We’ll make that decision here soon. We’ll see.”)

As impressive as Gafford was, in an ideal world, he’s not playing 30 minutes every night. Perhaps he can handle it, but time and time again freshman hit the proverbial wall in the middle of conference play. The Hogs have to have someone step up and provide reliable minutes inside.

3. There was absolutely no flow to this game. None whatsoever. The officiating trio of Doug Sirmons, Peter Juzenas and Robert Felder combined to call 50 fouls in the game, and the action was start-and-stop all night. That hurts Arkansas, who was clearly a much better team than Fresno State, but could never get into any sort of rhythm. When you want to cause “organized chaos,” as Anderson has termed it a time or two, constant disruption to the flow of the game mitigates the effect of that.

It shouldn’t come as much surprise that Sirmons was involved in such a game. Per (definitely worth a follow on Twitter @HogStats), Arkansas is just 27-26 in games Sirmons has officiated. He blows his whistle. A lot.

Other observations:

– Arkansas was outrebounded in the game by a 40-33 margin. The Bulldogs collected 12 offensive rebounds and had 14 second-chance points. Per KenPom, the Hogs rank 237th nationally in opponent offensive rebound percentage.

– The Razorbacks only shot 25-of-38 from the free throw line in this one. The fact that they got to the free-throw line that often is a good sign. The fact that they missed 13 of their attempts isn’t. It could have just been an off night, but through three games, the Hogs are 207th nationally in free throw percentage.

– Arkansas tallied 40 points in the paint, just a shade less than half their total of 83. Through three games, 138 of the Hogs’ 279 points have come in the paint.

Up Next: Arkansas travels to Portland for the PK80, and will take on Oklahoma (KenPom No. 19) on Thursday. Win or lose, the Hogs will then play either North Carolina or Portland on Friday, with one more game Sunday.