FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas basketball team didn’t just miss shots against Florida. Three times the Razorbacks’ shots failed to even hit the rim.
“I’ve never seen so many airballs,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “I don’t know if it was nerves or what it was.”
Florida was the slightly better of two horrendous-shooting teams as the Gators held on to beat the Razorbacks 57-51 on Wednesday night in Walton Arena,
The Gators shot 31 percent (18 of 58) from the field while the Razorbacks shot 30 percent (15 of 50).
At times it was like watching two people playing H-O-R-S-E and neither could get an “H” on the other.
“We had wide open shots,” Anderson said. “There’s no doubt about it. We just didn’t knock them down. We missed a lot of easy shots.
“But you go on the flip side, they didn’t make a whole lot of shots as well.
“So maybe it was a defensive struggle or a battle. Whatever you want to call it.”
Arkansas sophomore forward Daniel Gafford, who came into the game averaging 17.0 points, was 3 of 4 from the field.
Gafford scored two inside baskets to give Arkansas a 4-0 lead, but attempted just two shots the rest of the game. He hit 3 of 6 free throws and finished with a season-low nine points.
“We started off scoring,” Anderson said. “Then we kind of got away from it, and so I’ll take the blame for that.
“We’ve got to do better in terms of really continuing to get Daniel involved and move him around. We’ve got to get the ball to him.”
Florida coach Mike White said his team’s strategy was to double-team Gafford whenever he got the ball.
“We just felt like we needed to,” White said. “Sometimes as soon as it touched his hands, he had two and three guys around him. We did a pretty good job of rotating out of those post traps, but a couple of times they made us pay where they got open threes out of them.”
Arkansas (10-4, 1-1 SEC) didn’t make the Gators pay enough as the Razorbacks shot 6 of 26 on three-pointers.
Razorbacks sophomore guard Mason Jones scored a career-high 30 points and hit 7 of 13 shots and 4 of 9 three-pointers.
“He carried us,” Anderson said. “He kept us in it. He played with that sense of urgency, that passion you’ve got to play with.”
Excluding Jones and Gafford, the other seven Razorbacks who played combined to shoot 5 of 33.
Arkansas freshman guard Isaiah Joe — who came into the game averaging 15.5 points — scored a season-low five points. His previous low was 10 points in three games.
Joe hit 2 of 10 shots — including 2 of 9 three-pointers — and had two of the airballs. Freshman guard Desi Sills had the other airball. Joe came into the game shooting 45.5 percent from behind the arc (49 of 108).
“You look at Isaiah Joe,” Anderson said. “That’s one of those guys that normally would knock shots down.”
With Gafford not getting enough shots and three other starters — Joe, sophomore guard Jalen Harris and junior guard Adrio Bailey — shooting 5 of 23, the Razorbacks needed the bench to contribute.
But Arkansas was outscored 10-0 in bench points by Florida as Sills, Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, Reggie Chaney and Gabe Osabuohien combined to shoot 0 of 10.
According to Hogstats.com, it was the first game since Arkansas joined the SEC for the 1991-92 season in which the Razorbacks didn’t score any bench points.
The Razorbacks shot under 40 percent for the second consecutive game. Their 37.1 percent shooting (26 of 70) in a 73-71 victory at Texas A&M last Saturday had been a season-low until they shot even worse against the Gators.
Arkansas has shot a combined 39.9 percent in its last seven games and averaged 70.1 points while going 4-3. The Razorbacks haven’t scored more than 79 points since winning 98-74 at Colorado State on Dec. 9.
Anderson said the Razorbacks need to play with more intensity on defense to force a faster pace which will help them get more shots.
“We’ve got to be a little bit more uptempo,” he said. “That’s what has to take place.”
The Razorbacks finally got the tempo to their liking against Florida when they went on a 19-5 run over a 6:22 span to cut a 48-32 deficit to 53-51.
But Arkansas couldn’t get any closer and Florida closed out the game when KeVaughn Allen, the Gators’ senior guard from Little Rock, hit 4 of 4 free throws in the final 12 seconds to finish with 18 points.
“I knew we worked hard to get back, so it would have been nice to finish it off with a win,” Jones said. “But that’s what happens when we start off slow and have to fight back.
“If you try to wait that late to put your hard hat on then sometimes you’re not going to get the results you want.”
The 51 points were the Razorbacks’ lowest total in a home game in Anderson’s eight seasons as their coach. The previous low came in a 75-54 loss to LSU last season.
LSU (11-3, 1-0 SEC) comes back into Walton Arena to play Arkansas at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Arkansas will try to bounce back from a loss its SEC home opener, just as Florida did in beating the Razorbacks. South Carolina won 71-69 at Florida last Saturday.
“Because Florida was coming off a loss, I knew they were going to come in here and really get after our guys,” Anderson said. “We just didn’t match that intensity.
“Now we’ve got a talented LSU team coming in here. We’ve got to regroup and get back to playing basketball where we’re having fun.”