FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Mason Jones provided the spark Arkansas desperately needed while down 13 points early in the first half against Texas State on Saturday.
Daniel Gafford and the rest of the Razorbacks followed Jones' lead from there, helping the Southeastern Conference school earn a much-needed 73-70 victory over the Bobcats.
Jones matched his career high with 21 points in the win, a game after Arkansas (8-3) had lost for the second time in three games. Things weren't looking much better as the Razorbacks fell behind 19-6 early to the surging Bobcats (10-2), but the sophomore stepped in with a steal and three-point play — igniting a 17-0 run that put Arkansas ahead for good.
"I just felt like my team needed a spark from somebody," Jones said. "... I felt like I needed to step up to the table, and I was that guy today."
Jones was 5 of 7 from the field, hitting 10 of 13 free throws, and Gafford added 19 points and 10 rebounds. It was the fifth double-double of the season for the 6-foot-11 Gafford, and Jalen Harris and Isaiah Joe each added 10 points for the Razorbacks.
It was Jones, though, who provided the shot of energy Arkansas needed the most — and exactly at the right time. The 6-foot-5 guard matched his previous scoring best in his first year with the Razorbacks, having also scored 21 points in a win over UC Davis on Nov. 12.
"You've got to have somebody step up and make plays, and that's kind of what's been missing," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "... Mason made some big plays."
Tre'Larenz Nottingham scored 18 points and hit six 3-pointers to lead the Bobcats, who had their eight-game winning streak snapped. Nijal Pearson added 16 points and Jaylen Shead had 14 in the loss.
Texas State entered the game off to its best start to a season in 66 years, having last lost at Drake on Nov. 17.
The Bobcats looked the part of anything but an easy nonconference win for the struggling Razorbacks early in the first half, using an 8-0 run to jump out to a 19-6 lead. Nottingham had two of his 3-pointers during the run, which Alex Peacock capped by making a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock expired.
Jones stepped in with his steal shortly thereafter, and Arkansas followed his lead in rallying for the win.
"I felt like they counterpunched us and knocked us down," Texas State coach Danny Kaspar said. "We were a little slow to get up."
Arkansas' home loss to Georgia Tech on Wednesday night came on the heels of a home loss to Western Kentucky earlier this month, the first time the Razorbacks had lost back-to-back nonconference games in Bud Walton Arena since the 2009-10 season. With Jones and Gafford leading the way, Arkansas managed to recover from the early deficit and never trailed in the second half while improving to 4-0 all-time against the Bobcats.
Gafford entered the game tied for 11th in the country in field-goal percentage, shooting 66.7 percent for the season. The Arkansas forward shot below his usual percentage on Saturday, hitting 5 of 9 shots, but he was also 9 of 14 on free throws and added a pair of blocks. "We didn't really have an answer for Gafford," Kaspar said. "I'm not sure a lot of people are going to have an answer for him."
Texas State: Off until hosting Howard Payne on Dec. 29.
Arkansas: Return to action when they host Austin Peay on Dec. 28.
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