COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — After Texas A&M narrowly missed the NCAA tournament last season, senior guard Jalen Jones knows the importance of the 20th-ranked Aggies' 92-69 victory over Arkansas on Saturday to open Southeastern Conference play.
"You need to win every game at home, because playing on the road is super tough," said Jones, who scored a career-high 28 points. "You're not going to get the same kind of momentum on the road that you get at home."
The Aggies (11-2, 1-0) capitalized on 15 Arkansas turnovers and turned them into 22 points. Senior guard Alex Caruso set the school career record for steals with 230, including two on Saturday. He entered the game tied with guard David Edwards (1991-94) with 228 steals.
"I told him congrats in the middle of the game," Jones said of giving Caruso a pat on the back. "He deserves it."
Anthlon Bell led Arkansas (6-7, 0-1) with 16 points, while Moses Kingsley followed with 11. The Razorbacks led only once at 13-12 with 11 minutes left in the first half. The Aggies pressed on the accelerator and never let up.
The Aggies built a 47-26 halftime lead despite a lone field goal in that span from Danuel House, who entered the game as A&M's leading scorer with 15.3 points per game.
Jones, the team's second-leading scorer entering the game with a 14.9 average, had no trouble picking up the slack, however, with 16 points in the first half. He finished 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
"I'm just trying to do everything I can to help my team win games," Jones said in shrugging off his hot hand. "I was able to knock down a couple of shots, and I'm just happy we came out with the victory."
Added A&M coach Billy Kennedy, "It helps when Jalen is stretching defenses by shooting the ball like that — really the whole game."
Arkansas missed all seven of its 3-point attempts in the first half, and finished 6 of 16 from beyond the arc. The aggressive Aggies finished with 11 steals, including two each by Caruso, Jones and guards Anthony Collins and DJ Hogg, compared to only four for the Razorbacks.
Nearly midway through the second half and with A&M holding a 69-40 lead, the Aggies had made half their 3-point attempts (9 of 18) while the Razorbacks had made 20 percent (2 of 10). A&M finished 11 of 26 from the 3-point line.
"A&M has a good balance when you talk about experienced players and talented young players," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "We almost had to play a perfect game in order to have a chance to win here."
A&M won its fourth consecutive game after losing 67-54 at Arizona State on Dec. 5, and also made up for an 81-75 loss at Arkansas last February. While Arkansas holds a series advantage of 98-54, the Aggies have won four of six in the rivalry that dates to both programs' Southwest Conference days starting in 1915.
A&M scored its most points in an SEC game since joining the conference in 2012. . A&M sophomore center Tonny Trocha-Morelos recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. . Arkansas associate head coach Melvin Watkins is a former A&M head coach. He was 61-112 at A&M from 1998-2004.
While each team finished with 11 offensive rebounds, Arkansas outscored A&M 14-6 in second-chance points. . The Aggies beat the Razorbacks at their own game, in holding a 19-6 advantage in fast-break points.
"I don't know if this was a statement game, in our first league game. But (we) have four seniors, and they know the importance of every game," Kennedy said.
Arkansas hosts Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
Texas A&M plays at Mississippi State on Wednesday.