PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) When the brackets were released for the PK80 Invitational, Arkansas knew there was a pretty good chance of getting another shot at North Carolina if it could get through the opener against Oklahoma.
It was a freshman not even on the Razorbacks roster when they lost to the Tar Heels last March that made sure Arkansas got the matchup it wanted.
Daryl Macon scored a season-high 27 points, freshman Daniel Gafford hit a key jumper in the closing moments, and Arkansas remained unbeaten with a 92-83 win over the Sooners on Thursday.
Jaylen Barford added 19 points for the Razorbacks (4-0) and Gafford had 13 points. None was bigger for the 6-foot-11 freshman than his 17-footer with 1:01 remaining that gave Arkansas a four-point lead. Oklahoma missed twice on its next possession and Gafford added two more free throws to clinch Arkansas’ second 4-0 start in the past 11 seasons.
”We figured it was going to be a high-scoring affair and it came down to making a couple more plays than they did, getting to the free-throw line and making plays,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said.
North Carolina ended the Razorbacks postseason run in March by overcoming a five-point deficit in the final minutes to knock off Arkansas 72-65 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
”We’re just going to take it as another game. Yeah, we did play them last year and we lost to them but we also have to give them their respect,” Macon said. ”They’re national champions. We’re just going to go out there and play with the same intensity we did tonight.”
Freshman Trae Young led the Sooners (2-1) with 28 points, but Oklahoma had just one field goal in a five-minute span late in the game. Oklahoma also went cold from behind the 3-point line hitting just 2 of 12 attempts in the second half. Christian James added 13 points and Khadeem Lattin had 10 for the Sooners.
Arkansas was able to slow down Oklahoma’s scoring onslaught to open the season. After scoring 108 points in each of their first two games, the Sooners shot 47 percent overall and just 42 percent in the second half. The Sooners were shooting 56 percent through their first two games.
”Arkansas made it a little more frantic than we wanted it to be in terms of our offense,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. ”That’s what they do well, they force the action, force the tempo, which we don’t mind tempo but I thought we didn’t handle things as well as we needed to there in finishing some opportunities.”
Macon tied his career-high with six 3-pointers. It was his sixth 3 with 7:25 left that gave Arkansas a 72-67 lead. For a brief period, Young tried to rally the Sooners by himself. He scored seven straight points, capped by a 35-foot 3-pointer to pull the Sooners within 76-74. The teams proceeded to exchange free throws for the next three minutes. Dustin Thomas split a pair to give Arkansas an 83-79 lead. The Razorbacks were unable to take advantage of a careless Oklahoma turnover and Young’s free throws with 1:29 left cut the deficit to two. But Gafford was open on the baseline and with the shot clock dwindling hit a 17-footer to push the lead back to 85-81.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks were 9 of 18 on 3-pointers but started the game 7 of 8 from behind the arc. Arkansas was shooting 37 percent on 3s.
Oklahoma: The Sooners missed their first six 3-point attempts to start the second half after making 6 of 17 3s in the first half. Young and Jordan Shepherd were the only ones to make 3s in the second half.
Arkansas got a boost from the return of forward Thomas after missing the first three games of the season due to suspension. He was reinstated by Anderson this week. Thomas had just five points but grabbed nine rebounds and played 23 minutes.
”The second half you could see his impact on this team,” Anderson said.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks will face No. 9 North Carolina on Friday.
Oklahoma: The Sooners will take on Portland on Friday.