COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - Jalen Harris scored 15 points and Desi Sills added 14 as Arkansas held on for a 73-71 victory at Texas A&M in a Southeastern Conference opener on Saturday night.
The Razorbacks (10-3, 1-0 SEC) won for the first time in four tries in SEC openers at A&M (6-6, 0-1).
The teams traded leads for much of the second half before Arkansas heated up from long range. Mason Jones, Isaiah Joe and then Jones again coolly drained 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions starting with about five minutes left in the game.
The last lifted Arkansas to a 62-59 lead with 4:11 remaining, and the Razorbacks added to it with another 3-pointer from Jones with 3:23 left. That gave Arkansas an insurmountable 65-59 lead.
Even when Jones missed a 3-pointer during that stretch, as he did with 2:04 remaining, Gabe Osabuohien was there to snag the rebound on a possession capped by a Harris driving layup in the paint.
Jones was 3-of-11 from the 3-point line overall, but made the long-range offerings when it counted most.
Arkansas led 32-31 at halftime on the strength of Sills' 13 points in the first 20 minutes. The Aggies also missed eight of their nine 3-point attempts in the first half, in leading only briefly over that span.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks were upset about opening SEC play at A&M for the fourth time in seven seasons, and they had reason to be with the unbalanced scheduling. It didn't matter on Saturday, however, with Jones' long-range shooting late in the game. Arkansas was picked to finish 10th in league play, but as Harris pointed out, it was big to win the opener on the road.
A&M: The Aggies needed this one in a big way, and not simply because it was their SEC opener. They were coming off an 88-73 home loss to Texas Southern, a stunning setback that snapped a five-game win streak. They're on the road for their next two, and are looking at starting 0-3 square in the eyes.
A&M hits the road for the first time this season in SEC action, playing at No. 13 Kentucky on Tuesday night.
Arkansas plays at home for the first time in conference, playing host to Florida on Wednesday night.
Texas A&M Basketball Postgame Notes
Arkansas 73, Texas A&M 71
Reed Arena (College Station, Texas)
ABOUT THE GAME
Texas A&M was edged out by Arkansas in its SEC opener, 73-71, Saturday. It was a tight battle the entire way as the game saw 11 ties and 16 lead changes.
Arkansas carried a one-point lead, 32-31, into the halftime break and led by as much as eight points in the opening period.
The Aggies got a spark from TJ Starks and Savion Flagg in the second half, and a three from Starks with 14 second remaining got A&M back within three, but Arkansas was able to hold on.
The loss was the first time the Aggies have fallen to Arkansas is an SEC opener through four meetings.
This is the second time this season A&M has seen two Aggies score 20-plus points in a game.
The Aggies used the starting lineup of Wendell Mitchell, TJ Starks, Savion Flagg, Brandon Mahan and Christian Mekowulu for the first time this season.
Sophomore TJ Starks led the way as he matched his career high with 23 points, 17 coming in the second half. This is the first time he has surpassed the 20-point mark this season.
Sophomore Savion Flagg recorded the third double-double of his career and second of the season, finishing with 20 points and 15 rebounds.
Billy Kennedy is now 143-104 in his eight-year tenure at Texas A&M and 354-283 in his 21 seasons as a head coach.
The Aggies return to action on Tuesday, Jan. 8 for their first of two SEC road games next week. A&M will travel to Lexington to face Kentucky at 6 p.m. in the midweek before making the trip to Alabama on Saturday.
POST GAME QUOTES
Head Coach Billy Kennedy
“That was a hard-fought, back-and-forth SEC game, which we expected. Jalen Harris, did a really good job and gave us problems off the dribble. We were having to rotate and they hurt us on the glass. Obviously they shot it from the 3 a lot better than we did. For us we have got to make free throws, and the little things when we get the opportunity to score. We did not finish and we have got to finish”
On defensive performance tonight…
“Defensively I thought we put ourselves in a position to win the game. We just missed a lot of opportunities to score, we had some open three’s and some free throws that we missed.”
On Arkansas overall...
“They are very similar to us, two young teams trying to find a way to win. I thought their depth was a factor. They have good perimeter depth and that was a big factor.”
On the final shot…
“They were playing zone down the stretch, so we wanted to screen the zone and get an open three. We had some opportunities, [Wendell] Mitchell had an open three, TJ Starks got down into the paint and kicked it out. Just depends on the situation, the game, the matchup, and what the other team is doing. Most of the time we like TJ Starks to get in the lane and help make a play for somebody because he can do that.”
Texas A&M Sophomore Guard Savion Flagg
On the play of Arkansas …
“Their pressure was really good, their style of play was good. I had to find the high shooters, I had to play around [Daniel] Gafford and Jalen Harris, he runs their team. I felt like their style of play was really good, and it was hard to guard them.”
On the impact of this loss …
“There’s nothing we can do about it now, just move to the next game and start game planning for the next one. We play Arkansas again so we know what to expect and we’ll know what changes to make for next time.”
Texas A&M Sophomore Guard TJ Starks
On the look of the missed three late in the game …
“It felt good coming off my hands, so I thought it was going in, I think any shot I take is going to go in. Unfortunately, it was short, so I just moved on forward and tried to make the next one.”
On taking over late in the game …
“I just like to win. I’m a basketball player, so whatever I can do to help my team win, that’s what I’m trying to do. Unfortunately, I came up short, we couldn’t get the win. I just try to make winning plays, and I couldn’t do that tonight.”