NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Isaiah Joe scored 21 points, Mason Jones added 20 and Arkansas beat Valparaiso 72-68 in the first meeting between the teams on Saturday night.
It was the Razorbacks' annual trip to North Little Rock. They improved their record to 12-9 over the last 21 visits.
“The crowd was awesome,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “The environment tonight ... not many environments better than that in college basketball. ... That was so loud. You know, if we’re playing in an empty gym, we might not win that game.”
Adrio Bailey and Jimmy Whitt Jr. added 10 points each for Arkansas (10-1).
Valparaiso had the largest lead of the second half at 59-51, but Arkansas rallied and took to lead at 68-65 with 53 seconds left on the second of Jones' back-to-back 3-pointers. Joe extended the lead with a pair of free throws with 36 seconds left and Jones made a pair from the foul line with 25 seconds left to cap the scoring.
Jones missed his first three 3-point attempts of the game and may have hesitated on an open look late in the game, but his teammates encouraged him to keep shooting and it paid off with the back-to-back 3s.
“My teammates told me to keep going because I turned down an open look probably about two minutes to go,” Jones said. “And I remember Desi, Adrio, Jalen and Isaiah telling me, ‘You got to knock that down. You got to shoot that. Your team needs you to make open shots’
“I just got to keep confidence in myself, knowing the game wasn’t going my way, I was just glad to see my teammates pushing me through and I was glad to come through for my teammates.”
The Razorbacks opened the game with an 18-5 lead, but Valparaiso (7-6) closed the deficit before halftime and took a 34-32 lead into halftime.
After going back-and-forth early in the second half, the Crusaders took control with an 8-0 run to lead 51-46 with 11:12 left.
Javon Freeman-Liberty led Valparaiso with 21 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. Mileek McMillan added 14 points and nine rebounds and Eron Gordon scored 10.
Joe, a sophomore on the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Watch List, made 5 of 14 from 3-point range for the Razorbacks, finishing the game with 152 3-pointers for his career, one shy of Jonathan Modica (2003-06) for 10th place on the Arkansas career list.
Arkansas: So far this season the Razorbacks have struggled on the offensive glass but thrived on the defensive glass. That pattern continued on Saturday night as they were held to six offensive boards while grabbing 36 defensive rebounds.
Valparaiso: After its Dec. 18 win at High Point, Valparaiso had already secured its 10th consecutive winning record during the nonconference schedule.
Arkansas visits Indiana on Dec. 29.
Valparaiso hosts Loyola Chicago in a Missouri Valley Conference opener on Dec. 30.