FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Missouri won for the first time in seven tries Tuesday at Bud Walton Arena and took back-to-back victories in conference play for the first time this season with a 75-71 win against Arkansas.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Fueled by a rowdy crowd of 15,876, the Razorbacks made several runs and even surged into the lead as late as the 3-minute, 28-second mark in the second half, but the Tigers never buckled.
Instead, Missouri, 16-4 overall and 4-3 in the Southeastern Conference, dominated the boards (42-26) and was perfect at the free-throw line in the second half (16 of 16) in shrugging off the Bud Walton mystique.
“Obviously, it was a great win for us and I thought we showed great toughness to come (out victorious) in this building, which is one of the great buildings in the country,” said Missouri coach Frank Haith, who is in his third season as current Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s successor.
Nobody was tougher than senior Earnest Ross, whose gritty play down the stretch helped the Tigers rally after sophomore Michael Qualls staked the Hogs to a 61-60 lead with 3:28 remaining.
Back-to-back jumpers by junior Jabari Brown restored Missouri’s lead, only to see junior Rashad Madden tie the game with an old-fashioned three-point play.
Ross, who finished with a game-high 24 points and grabbed six rebounds, made sure it was the game’s last tie, outmuscling the Razorbacks for an offensive rebound before Haith called a pivotal timeout with 1:16 remaining.
“Coach preaches toughness to all his players … and that offensive rebound I had was straight-up toughness,” Ross said.
Ross then delivered the dagger coming out of the stoppage, drilling a straight-on three-pointer for a 67-64 lead the Tigers would never relinquish.
“I wanted us to execute,” Haith said. “I wanted us to get the shot we wanted. We had great execution. Jordan (Clarkson) drove baseline. It was a play we faked a ball screen, kind of like a misdirection play, and Jordan made a nice play to hit EJ at the top of the key.”
Ross added two free throws on Missouri’s next possession, the first of eight straight free-throw makes in the final 46 seconds that iced the win.
“It’s a great accomplishment for those kids,” Haith said. “I’m really happy for them. This is a tough place to go get a win. We all know that. They win a lot of games here. Mike does a great job, and this building has been magical for them. It’s truly something for our guys to be proud of.”
Before that, both teams delivered substantial blows in a game that featured five ties and 10 lead changes.
Missouri landed the game’s first punch, jumping out to a 10-3 lead behind two buckets by sophomore Ryan Rosburg.
After a one-for-nine start from the field, Arkansas countered by getting hot from three-point range — eight of the Razorbacks’ 10 first-half baskets were three-pointers — and took its only lead of the opening half on a Qualls three-pointer at the 13:26 mark.
But the Tigers immediately surged back in front with a 9-0 run.
“It’s extremely important, particularly on the road, in keeping the crowd out of it,” Haith said. “I thought we answered. When they made a run, we did a great job of answering their baskets.”
Missouri, which committed 19 turnovers but allowed only two fast-break points, stretched that lead to 10 points before Arkansas whittled it back to 36-34 at halftime with Ross and Brown on the bench with two fouls for the final 4:43.
The Razorbacks, 13-7 and 2-5, surged into the lead again early in the second half, pulling in front 43-41 on a soaring alley-oop slam by Qualls.
Bud Walton Arena was rocking, but Clarkson drew a foul and tied the game with two free throws — his only points of the second half — kicking off a 15-3 flurry.
Brown, who matched Ross’ game-high with 24 points and has topped 20 points in five straight games, scored eight points during Missouri’s run, including back-to-back three-pointers that pushed the lead to 56-46.
The Razorbacks countered with a 12-2 run, but the Tigers proved to have the strongest finishing kick.
Freshman Johnathan Williams III was just one of eight from the field, but he pulled down a game-best 12 rebounds, the fifth double-figure performance of his career.
To reach Tod Palmer, send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.