PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In the eyes of sophomore guard Mason Jones, the University of Arkansas didn’t have far to look as far as motivation was concerned.
Rallying around Daniel Gafford’s decision to skip the National Invitational Tournament in favor of preparing for this June’s NBA Draft, the Razorbacks started strong Tuesday night and never looked back en route to an 84-72 victory over Providence before an announced crowd of 3,057 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
“Knowing that people were going to doubt us, thinking we were going to lose and go home, we wanted to keep on pushing and get a good win,” Jones said. “People thought we would be sorry because of Daniel, but he made the right decision for himself and we respect that. We wanted to show everyone that we had a team.”
The end result was Arkansas' first wire-to-wire victory since a 98-74 victory at Colorado State on Dec. 5. It also set up a second-round matchup at Indiana on Saturday. The time for that game is still to be determined.
Jones came off the bench to lead Arkansas (18-15) with 18 points while freshman reserve Reggie Chaney supplied a career-best 14 points along with seven blocks. The Razorbacks shot 10-of-21 (47.6 percent) on three-pointers and connected on 51 percent of their field goals.
“We were able to make some shots,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “This team had some adversity coming in, but I thought it enabled them to band together and focus. It was like sum of all the parts and all the parts played well.”
The Razorbacks also received contributions from freshman Isaiah Joe (12 points) and sophomore Gabe Osabuohien (11 points). Freshman Ethan Henderson supplied a nice lift with career highs in points (6) and rebounds (5) in 17 minutes. Arkansas outscored Providence 34-14 in bench points.
“You got to see some of the individual talents that some of these guys bring to the table,” Anderson said, noting that his team had 19 assists on 29 baskets.
Arkansas made its first five shots from beyond the arc to build a 20-9 lead with the game barely seven minutes old. All games in the NIT are featuring experimental rules with one of them involving the three-point line being extended to 22 feet, 1.75 inches.
“I knew we have some guys who have pretty good range, but you always wonder,” Anderson said. “You’re on the road for the first game of a tournament, which is always the most important, but the guys came out and were focused.”
Providence responded to Arkansas’ hot start with six consecutive points, but the Razorbacks quickly shrugged that off with four layups in a row. Chaney got the run started with baskets on consecutive possessions and before the Razorbacks knew it, they were feasting on a 28-15 lead with 7:44 left before halftime.
Jalen Harris made 1 of 2 free throws to end a 6-0 Providence run that gave Arkansas a 42-31 lead at intermission. The Razorbacks shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, while Providence was woeful from three-point territory (0 for 11) and the free-throw line (5 of 10).
Things continued to look up for the Razorbacks, who went ahead by 16 (52-36) after Joe nailed a three-pointer. Providence got to within 10 (56-46) after a three-pointer from redshirt junior Drew Edwards, the basket being Providence's first field goal outside the paint. Arkansas delivered an immediate response with Desi Sills finding the range from the far corner. His three-pointer put the Friars into a 59-46 hole with 13:35 remaining.
Harris supplied the finishing touch when he went in for a two-handed dunk that upped Arkansas’ lead to 75-58 with 4:52 to go.
Saturday's matchup with Indiana will be the second of the season for Arkansas. The Razorbacks defeated the Hoosiers 73-72 on Nov. 18 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
“That was a game we were fortunate to win. [Indiana] had a tip that didn’t go in and we made some free throws,” Anderson said. “We know we’re going to get their best shot. The teams are familiar with one another.”
Arkansas 84, Providence 72 - FINAL
The Razorbacks will play Indiana for a second time this season after pounding Providence on the road on Tuesday. The date and time of that game has not yet been announced.
Arkansas was led in scoring by Mason Jones, who finished with 18. Reggie Chaney added a career-high 14 points and seven blocks, Isaiah Joe pitched in 12 and Gabe Osabuohien 11 plus eight rebounds. Desi Sills finished with eight and Jalen Harris finished with seven points, six assists and five rebounds. He turned the ball over five times for the second straight game.
The Razorbacks shot 10-of-21 from 3-point range in the win and 51 percent for the game. Providence made 3-of-23 3-point attempts and Maliek White scored a game-high 19 points.
More from tonight's game later.
Arkansas 75, Providence 60 - 3:56 left
Reggie Chaney added a layup, Jalen Harris threw one down with two hands after a decisive cut through the paint and Desi Sills chipped in two free throws to set the score at the final media timeout.
Chaney has a career-high 14 points, Jones has 13 and Osabuohien 10. Five players - Sills, Joe, Chaney, Jones, Osabuohien - have at least five points since the break. Ethan Henderson has six points and five rebounds in 18 minutes.
Providence is 2-of-21 from 3-point range. Alpha Diallo has 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting tonight.
Arkansas 69, Providence 51 - 8:00 left
Maliek White canned a pair of free throws for the Friars following the Providence timeout to stop Arkansas' quick 5-0 run to go up 18, then Adrio Bailey threw down a dunk to put the lead back at 18.
Bailey has five points and is a plus-11 in 10 minutes tonight. The Razorbacks have assisted on nine of their 11 buckets since halftime.
Arkansas 67, Providence 49 - 9:10 left
The Razorbacks are putting their collective foot on the Friars' throat. Arkansas has scored 11 of the game's last 14 points and Ed Cooley called for time following an Ethan Henderson alley-oop dunk assisted by Desi Sills.
Arkansas has its largest lead of the night and Gabe Osabuohien is the third Razorbacks player to reach double figures in scoring with 10 after an and-1 before Henderson's slam.
Arkansas 62, Providence 49 - 11:19 left
Providence finally hit a 3 at the 13:49 mark to pull within 10, but Arkansas responded with 3s from Desi Sills on the ensuing possession and Mason Jones the next trip down.
Jones has a game-high 13 points and Reggie Chaney has 12. Those two are a combined 10-of-15 from the floor. Jones also has four assists, tying Jalen Harris for the team lead.
Arkansas is shooting 8-of-12 since halftime and 4-of-7 from deep. Razorbacks have assisted on seven of their eight second-half scores.
Arkansas 54, Providence 41 - 14:25 left
Reggie Chaney, who is in double figures scoring for the first time since Jan. 15 against Tennessee, has four more points in the second half, Isaiah Joe has five and Mason Jones three as Arkansas is maintaining what feels like a comfortable lead.
Providence is now 0-of-13 from 3-point range tonight and scoring at just a .837 PPP clip. Twelve of the Friars' points have come off Arkansas turnovers.
Arkansas 42, Providence 31 - Halftime
Pretty solid half from the Razorbacks all the way around. Arkansas didn't close the half as strong as Mike Anderson probably would have liked, but it'll carry a double-digit lead into the break.
Reggie Chaney leads all scorers with eight points tonight. It's the most he's scored in a game since adding eight in the loss to then-No. 4 Kentucky in late February. Mason Jones has seven while Gabe Osabuohien and Jalen Harris each have five. Harris also pitched in three assists.
Ethan Henderson was very active in the first half, finishing with four points and five rebounds in 12 minutes. Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, who missed the SEC Tournament loss to Florida with a left foot injury, played three minutes and hit a 3.
Providence shot 42 percent in the first half and missed all 11 of its 3-point attempts. The Friars averaged just .816 points per possession before the break. They are a below-average offense that feeds off their defense, and that hasn't been the case tonight.
Arkansas' spacing has been great tonight, even playing 5 out at times, which has allowed quicker Arkansas guards to get into the heart of the defense and cause problems. Pick-and-roll action has been effective, too, especially with Harris attacking the extended painted area with his head up.
Arkansas 36, Providence 22 - 3:47 left first half
All nine Razorbacks who have entered the game tonight have scored at least three points, and Reggie Chaney leads with way with six while Gabe Osabuohien and Mason Jones each have five.
Arkansas is shooting 50 percent from the floor and 5-of-8 from 3-point range. The Razorbacks made their first five 3s of the night.
Providence has scored just 22 points on 31 possessions tonight, which is very, very poor. The Friars finished last in the Big East in offensive efficiency by a fairly wide margin. They were last in 2-point and 3-point field goal percentage as well. Providence is 0-of-9 from deep so far.
Arkansas 28, Providence 15 - 7:44 left first half
Arkansas is on its second 8-0 run on the game to grab it's largest lead of the night. Ethan Henderson corralled a loose ball and laid it in prior to the media timeout. He has four points and a rebound in five minutes.
Gabe Osabuohien leads the Razorbacks with five points on 2-of-4 from the floor, and Jalen Harris has a team-high four rebounds. He is the lone Arkansas player who has played and not scored. Along with Henderson, Reggie Chaney has four points, two boards and two blocks.
Providence is shooting 36.8 percent from the floor right now and is 0-of-8 from deep.
Arkansas 20, Providence 13 - 11:37 left first half
Providence scored twice in 41 seconds after coach Ed Cooley called for time, and Mike Anderson elected to stop play to talk things over. Mason Jones missed a jumper, then Reggie Chaney had a midrange jumper blocked and the Friars turned both misses into points on the other end.
Seven of the nine Razorbacks who've played tonight have scored. Only Chaney and Jalen Harris are yet to score.
Arkansas 20, Providence 9 - 12:56 left first half
Following back-to-back-to-back turnovers, Arkansas has scored eight straight points to take an 11-point lead. The run began with Ethan Henderson's tip slam off an Isaiah Joe airball then Keyshawn Embery-Simpson and Mason Jones both hit rhythm 3s.
Arkansas is 5-of-5 from 3-point range.
Arkansas 12, Providence 5 - 15:44 left first half
Arkansas is off to a great start on both ends. The Razorbacks have 3s from Desi Sills, Gabe Osabuohien and Isaiah Joe, plus and and-1 from Adrio Bailey on their first possession of the game off an anticipation steal by Osabuohien.
Arkansas is playing at a fast pace that definitely favors it, so we'll see if that continues. Teams are on pace as of now to hit 80 possessions each. Providence is 2-of-6 from the floor and 0-of-3 from 3-point range.
Arkansas' starting lineup: Desi Sills, Jalen Harris, Isaiah Joe, Gabe Osabuohien and Adrio Bailey.
Tonight we will get a small glimpse into what the future may hold for Arkansas basketball. Bailey is making his first start since Auburn on Feb. 20. Daniel Gafford, who declared for the NBA Draft on Monday, is gone, leaving an opportunity for forwards like Osabuohien, Reggie Chaney and freshman Ethan Henderson to gain experience heading into next season. Henderson has played all of 28 minutes this season. This is just the fourth starting lineup Mike Anderson, coaching in the NIT for the second time as Arkansas' coach, has used this season.
Without Gafford, Arkansas' leading scorer is Isaiah Joe (14.0) with Mason Jones (13.6) and Jalen Harris (7.7) behind him. The Razorbacks have been outscored by by 123 points with Gafford off the floor this season. Arkansas has allowed teams to shoot 51 percent inside the arc and 38.8 percent from 3-point range over the 653 defensive possessions Gafford did not play. Arkansas' defensive turnover rate, however, was an impressive 23.9 percent, but not good enough to offset opponents' shooting figures or below-average offense.
Offensively, in that same scenario, the Razorbacks scored a troubling .94 points per possession, shot 44.1 percent on 2-point field goal attempts - which would equate to a bottom-10 ranking nationally - and 31.3 percent from 3. I'm sure a lot of people are eager to see what this team looks like without a first-round draft pick as its anchor. This starting lineup has played 3 offensive possessions together all season.
Providence's starters: Alpha Diallo, Maliek White, David Duke, A.J. Reeves and Nate Watson.
Diallo is the man for the Friars. He averages better than 16 points per game for the season. Providence is fairly average offensively, scoring only 1.02 PPP with Diallo in the lineup, but the team does shoot the 3 well - 37 percent when he's on the floor vs. 21.3 percent when he sits. This season, Providence averages less than one point per possession and hits just 46.5 percent of its shots inside the arc, which is sub-275th nationally.
The Friars are an above-average offensive rebounding team, grabbing 31.7 percent of their misses. Arkansas is No. 351 out of 353 Division I teams in defensive rebounding.
Running updates by Scottie Bordelon of WholeHogSports