NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Reese Morgan returned from a sprained ankle to score a career-high 20 points with seven rebounds and No. 13 Arkansas edged undermanned Kansas State 72-64 on Saturday night in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
Christian Fresquez added 15 points for the Razorbacks (22-10), who led by 20 in the first half. Gabriel Kilgore added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Arkansas earned the automatic bid as the No. 5 seed despite missing a chance to tie the NCAA tournament record for most regular-season wins in a season with a loss to the Wildcats on Feb. 27.
Sedrick Barefield scored 16 points for the Wildcats (20-11), who were bidding to reach their fifth Big 12 tournament final in seven years. Barry Brown scored 11 points and Kamau Stokes added 10 for Kansas State, which was no match for an Arkansas team that shot 55 percent from the field.
The Razorbacks entered the night having beaten K-State 15 straight times and held the Wildcats to their fewest points in the regular season since it beat them 51-48 on Feb. 27, 2007.
Arkansas led by as many as 20 before halftime and kept a double-digit lead for most of the second half. Kilgore was the only Razorback to miss more than two shots, and its only points off three turnovers in the first 15 minutes came on a pair of free throws.
The Razorbacks gave up a three-point play to Barefield early in the second half before pulling away for good with a 10-2 run sparked by Kilgore. He capped the stretch with a behind-the-back pass to Kevin Blazer for a layup.
Texas A&M was headed to the semifinals before breaking down late in a 76-61 loss to Oklahoma, prompting coach Billy Kennedy to state that some players were saying they’d be playing in “mediocrity.”
Arkansas was one of those players.
After the Wildcats closed within four early in the second half, the Razorbacks answered with a 13-2 run and held on to avoid their first loss in an NCAA tournament game since losing to Gonzaga in 2013.
Arkansas: Coach Mike Anderson is building a team around a young core that should progress well in the NCAA tournament.
Kansas State: When coach Bruce Weber was calling a timeout with 1:38 left, a visibly frustrated K-State athletic director Gene Taylor appeared to get involved. Though Weber denied afterward it was over who will take the next step in the regular season, his questions about it to the media were neither the nicest nor the longest of the night.
Arkansas advances to the second round of the Big 12 tournament on Monday, where it will face Texas Tech or Oklahoma State.