In what may prove to be a turning point in their so far underachieving season, the Arkansas Razorbacks finished on a 17-2 run to overcome a late 8-point deficit and pick up their first Quad-1 win of 2021-22, and they did it on the road against the first ranked team on their schedule in the form of a 65-58 statement-game victory over No. 12 LSU on Saturday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.
Arkansas (12-5, 2-3 SEC, NCAA NET No. 84 entering Saturday’s game) has now strung together back-to-back wins for the first time since early December after suffering through a 3-game losing skid to open league play that was part of an overall 5-losses-in-6-games stretch. The Hogs used the momentum from a 44-point home win over Missouri on Wednesday as a springboard into the Tigers’ den where LSU had not lost this season in its 10 home games prior to the Arkansas invasion.
In a matter of a week, the Hogs shook off the program’s worst start in league play through three games in 13 years to show significant strides moving forward, something last season’s Arkansas team did to turn around a 2-4 league start with an 11-game SEC game winning streak that propelled them into a second-place finish in the league, a final national Top 10 ranking, and ultimately a run to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight.
The Hogs trailed 56-48 with 7 minutes remaining in the game, but unanswered three-pointers by sophomore guard Devo Davis and senior guard JD Notae sandwiched around a lay-in by senior forward Trey Wade and a tip-in by senior combo forward Au’Diese Toney were good for a 10-0 run to put Arkansas up 58-56. After an LSU dunk by Alex Fudge at the 2:16 mark tied the game at 58-all, Arkansas sophomore big man Jaylin Williams put his team up for good, 61-58, with a triple with 1:12 to play, and on the Tigers’ ensuing possession Williams set up on the baseline to draw a charge that gave the Hogs possession of the ball with 0:59 showing on the clock.
After each team committed a turnover, Notae missed the front-end of a one-and-one at the 22-second mark, but senior combo forward Stanley Umude swooped in for a putback lay-in to extend the Hogs’ advantage to 63-58. After rebounding a missed LSU three-point shot attempt, Toney was fouled and he made both free throws with 11 seconds to play for the final margin.
Williams recorded his third consecutive double-double — 11 points (4-of-7 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 2-of-2 free throws) and a game-high 13 rebounds to go with 3 steals, 1 assist, 1 block, and a game-high 4 drawn charges (Williams’ season team-leading charges-drawn count grew to 21 on Saturday).
“I saw my opportunity and took the three, and it just felt good,” Williams said of making the Hogs’ final three-pointer that proved to be the game-winner. “My teammates believed in me to take the shot, and I just took it.”
Notae, the SEC’s leading scorer coming in, battled through foul trouble to reach his season average with a game-high 19 points, a team-high 4 assists, and 3 rebounds. Toney notched 12 points (4-of-8 field goals and 4-of-6 free throws), 4 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. Davis had 7 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal. Umude tallied 8 points and 6 rebounds.
LSU (15-2, 3-2 SEC, NCAA NET No. 4 entering Saturday’s game) had its 3-game winning streak snapped by the Hogs, who have split their last 12 meetings with the Tigers spanning the past five seasons.
The Razorbacks improved to 3-4 in games played away from home this season, including 1-2 in true road games.
Arkansas also improved to 3-4 against teams ranked in the NCAA NET Top 100 (wins over LSU, Cincinnati, and Kansas State, and losses to Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Oklahoma). The Hogs are now 1-3 in Quad-1 games (includes the win over LSU), 2-1 in Q2 games, 2-1 in Q3 games, and 7-0 in Q4 games.
Assistant coach / interim head coach Keith Smart, who returned to his hometown of Baton Rouge to coach his first collegiate game, is now 1-0 at Arkansas. Smart is filling in for surgery-recovering Head Hog Eric Musselman, who is 56-24 overall leading the program, which includes a 23-19 mark against SEC teams.
“We couldn’t score, they couldn’t score, so the score never really separated far enough, two baskets you’re back in the game,” Smart said of the Hogs’ grinding their way back from that late 8-point deficit. “And that’s what (the Hogs) did, and we found a way to make some big plays … We brought Coach Musselman into the locker room with us via Facetime so he could celebrate this moment with us as he’s recovering at home.”
The Razorbacks dominated the glass (41-31) and won second-chance-points (13-10) against one of the best rebounding teams in Division 1, and though they were minus-3 in turnovers (19-16, including minus-7 in steals at 14-7), they were plus-7 in points-off-turnovers (20-13). The Hogs edged out the Tigers in points-in-the-paint (30-28) and doubled them up in fastbreak scoring (10-5).
After going 0-of-8 from 3 in the first half, the Hogs made 5-of-9 for 55.6% in the final 20 minutes, including the aforementioned three big triples down the stretch that Davis, Notae, and Williams combined to hit. For the game, Arkansas shot 23-of-55 from the field (41.8%), including 5-of-17 from 3 (29.4%), and an outstanding 14-of-18 from the free throw line (77.8%).
Defensively, the Hogs held the Tigers to 21-of-55 shooting from the field (38.2%), including 5-of-19 from 3 (26.3%), and LSU made 11-of-17 from the free throw line (64.7%). While Arkansas shot hot from distance in the second half, it limited the Tigers to only 2-of-9 from behind the arc (22.2%) in the final 20 minutes.
Sophomore guard Eric Gaines led LSU with 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists before fouling out late. Wing Alex Fudge contributed 13 points as did sophomore Cincinnati transfer forward Tari Eason. Arkansas held senior forward and the Tigers’ second-leading scorer coming in, Darius Days, to only 3 points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field, including 0-of-3 from 3, and 1-of-2 free throw shooting.
Due to injuries, LSU played without Missouri senior transfer guard Xavier Pinson and Arkansas played without junior forward Kamani Johnson.
“So many magnificent memories came back when I got here,” Smart said of his return to his hometown , during his post-game radio interview. “I pointed to my Mom up in the stands, and there’s a connection right away.”
Next up for the Razorbacks is an SEC home game against South Carolina on Tuesday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Smart went with a starting five of Notae, Williams, Toney, Wade, and Umude.
The Hogs fell behind by 7 points twice early, 9-2 and 16-9, but an Arkansas balanced attack that included putbacks off offensive rebounds, some transition scoring, and 7-of-8 free throw shooting allowed the Hogs to climb ahead, 29-28, with 2:09 remaining in the first half.
But LSU closed the first 20 minutes on a 5-2 mini spurt to claim a 33-31 lead at the break.
Arkansas made 11-of-27 shots from the field (40.7%) in the first half, but they were luckless behind the arc with a 0-of-8 shooting clip from 3. The Hogs went 9-of-10 at the foul line for 90%. Defensively, the Hogs held the Tigers to 13-of-30 field goal shooting (43.3%, including 3-of-10 from 3 for 30%. LSU made 4-of-6 from the foul line (66.7%).
Arkansas was plus-5 on the glass (20-15) at the break and it was plus-3 in second-chance-points (7-4). And though the Hogs were minus-3 in the turnover department (10-7), they were plus-5 in points-off-turnovers (12-7). Both teams scored 16 points-in-the-paint in the first half. The Tigers were plus-4 in steals (7-3) and they were plus-5 in assists (8-3).
Notae (8 points) and senior guard Chris Lykes (6) led the Hogs’ scoring in the first 20 minutes.