Missouri had its chance. The Tigers had the ball, trailing Arkansas by one point with 13.6 seconds left Saturday at Bud Walton Arena, and all they needed was a basket to prove, once and for all, that they could win in a hostile environment.
But when the time came to make a play, the Tigers’ lack of execution down the stretch — much like it had in five of its previous six road games — cost them. Junior point guard Phil Pressey dribbled into Arkansas forward Coty Clarke and lost the ball, and Clarke drove to the other end, only to see the ball go out of bounds.
Arkansas, however, benefited from a jump-ball call — it appeared the refs couldn’t figure who touched the ball last — and St. Louis native B.J. Young split a pair of free throws to put the Razorbacks ahead by two with 5 seconds left. Missouri sophomore guard Jabari Brown rushed a three-pointer, and Arkansas managed to hold on for the 73-71 win before a delirious crowd of 19,004.
Afterward, a noticeably upbeat Mike Anderson — who left Missouri to coach Arkansas in March 2011 after five seasons in Columbia — was rather complimentary of his former team, which featured two players (Laurence Bowers and Phil Pressey) that he had recruited to the school.
“I told them, ‘Ya’ll have got a good team,’ ” Anderson said. “ ‘Ya’ll are getting there, just keep working.’ We were lucky today, I told them that. We were fortunate today.”
The frantic sequence at the end brought a close to a fast, competitive game filled with several big plays and moments spurred by an energetic crowd, despite the fact both teams committed 25 fouls apiece. Missouri was certainly done no favors, as five of the Tigers’ top six players — Bowers, Brown, Keion Bell, Tony Criswell and Alex Oriakhi — all finished with four or more fouls.
In fact, all except Bell had at least three fouls with 12 minutes left in the game, though Missouri coach Frank Haith declined to reveal his thoughts about the officiating — overtly, at least — in his postgame media session.
“First of all, I’d like to say, ‘Don’t anyone ask me about the officiating,’ ” Haith said, unprompted. “I’m not getting in trouble today.
“As far as the game, it was a high-level game. I’m proud of our guys, how hard they fought under the circumstances. I’m really, really proud of them. They competed and I thought we just worked our butts off out there tonight.”
Missouri, which is now 18-7 overall and 7-5 in the Southeastern Conference, actually bucked its habit of getting off to a poor start on the road and took a 33-29 lead into the break.
But that’s when Marshawn Powell started to bring Arkansas back. Powell, a 6-foot-7 forward who finished with a team-high 24 points, scored 12 of his team’s first 15 points after the halftime as the Razorbacks, 16-9, 7-5 in the SEC, surged out to a 56-48 lead with nine minutes left.
Missouri, however, battled its way back, outscoring the Razorbacks 17-9 over the next eight minutes with a variety of clutch baskets. An acrobatic catch and reverse layup by Bell — who finished with a team-high 25 points, a career-high for him at Mizzou — and his block of Arkansas’ 6-foot-10 forward Hunter Mickelson moments later were highlights, as was a clutch three by junior guard Earnest Ross that tied the game at 63-63.
But Ross, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds and punctuated the play with an emotional, Tiger Woods-esque fist pump, wasn’t done. He got involved in a tie-up with Arkansas’ Rashad Madden that gave MU the ball back, and later found Bell — from one knee, no less — wide open near the rim for the go-ahead lay up that made the score 65-63, Missouri.
Powell tied the game at 65-65 by bullying his way to the basket moments later, but Missouri answered, as Pressey drilled a jumper from the top of the key to put MU ahead by two with a minute left. Bell added three free throws from there, including a pair with 34.2 seconds left that put Mizzou ahead 70-66.
“Looks like there’s no way we’re going to find a way to win,” Anderson said.
But they would, as Young, who had 18 points, drove to the rim on Bell to convert a basket and draw a foul. He made the free throw, cutting the deficit to one with 27 seconds left, and after Brown split a pair of free throws to put MU ahead by two, Young again drove on Bell — who picked up his fifth foul and had to leave the game — made a basket and hit the ensuing free throw to put Arkansas ahead 72-71 with 19 seconds left.
“It was just two good plays,” Bell said. “He penetrated hard and there was contact there and he finished through the contact.”
Pressey’s aforementioned turnover — the Tigers had 17 — came shortly after that, and Missouri again fell on the road, despite outrebounding Arkansas 47-31 and leading by four with 34 seconds left.
“This is probably one of the craziest games I’ve ever played in, if not the craziest game,” Young said. “I still can’t believe what happened at the end.”
Neither, apparently, could Haith, whose postgame silence about the officiating — not to mention his oft-repeated contention that his team played well enough to get the victory — seemed to speak volumes.
“We played good enough to win, we did,” Haith said. “We put ourselves in position to win, it just didn’t come out our way. I was proud of our guys how they competed under the circumstances.”