FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' NCAA Tournament chances appeared all but lost following back-to-back losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt two short weeks ago. Don't look now, but the Razorbacks have responded to their lowest point of the season with four straight wins — including Wednesday night's 86-77 victory over Texas A&M — to put that NCAA return well within their sights.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' NCAA Tournament chances appeared all but lost following back-to-back losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt two short weeks ago.
Don't look now, but the Razorbacks have responded to their lowest point of the season with four straight wins — including Wednesday night's 86-77 victory over Texas A&M — to put that NCAA return well within their sights.
Jaylen Barford scored 16 points, 10 in the second half, to lead Arkansas (21-7, 10-5 Southeastern Conference) to its second win over the Aggies this season. It's the second time the Razorbacks have won four straight SEC games this season, the first time they've done that twice separately in conference play since the 1997-98 season.
The win was also Arkansas' 10th straight over Texas A&M (14-13, 6-9) in Fayetteville, and it came at a perfect time for a school desperate to improve on only one NCAA Tournament appearance in coach Mike Anderson's first five seasons.
"I think we're playing with a lot more confidence, the ball is moving more, playing better defense, rebounding better and just playing as a team," Barford said.
Arkansas overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to defeat the Aggies 62-60 in College Station last month . This time around, the Razorbacks only trailed in the opening minutes and used a strong finish from Barford to hold off a late challenge.
After leading by as many as nine points in the second half, Arkansas saw its lead cut to 69-67 with 4:34 remaining.
That's when Barford, following a heated verbal exchange with Texas A&M sophomore Kobie Eubanks, scored six straight points for the Razorbacks — pushing their lead to 75-69 and brining the Bud Walton Arena crowd to its feet.
"I think that's the beauty of our basketball team, that on any given night it could be certain guys," Anderson said. "But for (Barford) to do it in crunch time, that says a whole lot about him."
Five players scored in double figures for Arkansas, with Manuale Watkins finishing with a season-high 13 points. Daryl Macon added 12 points off the bench, while Dusty Hannahs had 11 and Moses Kingsley finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Tyler Davis scored 21 points to lead the Aggies, who shot 50.8 percent (31 of 61 percent) in the loss. Admon Gilder added 17 points for Texas A&M, while Robert Williams had 16 and Tonny Trocha-Morelos 10 in the loss.
Despite the hot shooting, the Aggies were unable to overcome 17 turnovers that led to 21 points for Arkansas.
"The second half, it got a little faster to where we did break the press and got some layups, but that was kind of fool's gold," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "They got us playing faster than we wanted to."
Texas A&M: After advancing to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 last season, the Aggies' hopes for an NCAA return have been reduced to winning the SEC Tournament. They have now lost three of their last four games, all of which have come on the road.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks could ill afford a misstep at home this late in the season, if they hoped to return to the NCAA Tournament after missing it last season. With Barford leading the way in the second half, Arkansas earned a win when it needed it the most — trailing for only 43 seconds in earning its second win this season over the Aggies.
Arkansas junior forward Trey Thompson played only 18 minutes on Wednesday, but he impacted the game in several ways — finishing with five points and a career-high six assists.
Texas A&M hosts Alabama on Saturday.
The Razorbacks are at Auburn on Saturday.
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter @Kurt_Voigt_AP