Senior guard Jalen Tate made two free throws with 4.3 seconds left and freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis got a steal at 0:01 as Arkansas survived an unlikely three-point barrage from Kentucky while simultaneously ending the Wildcats’ recent 7-year dominance in the series with an 81-80 win Tuesday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
The Razorbacks overcame a 14-of-26 shooting night from behind the arc (53.8%) by a ‘Cats squad that came in as one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country at 29.8%. The Hogs trailed most of the first half, led by a point at the break, then built a 12-point lead, 72-60, with 6:10 to play, but Kentucky quickly chopped down the deficit as the ‘Cats made 5 triples in the final stretch to regain the lead, 80-79, on guard Davion Mintz’s splash from distance with 12.3 seconds to play. Tate rebounded a miss on a drive by Davis and was fouled as he attempted a shot in the paint, resulting in his 2-of-2 free throw trip that provided the final points in the game.
Arkansas (15-5, 7-4 SEC, SEC Net No. 28 entering Tuesday) has won five consecutive league games for the first time in four years as the Razorbacks halted an 8-game losing skid against Kentucky (5-13, 4-7 SEC, NCAA NET No. 81 entering Tuesday) while improving to 3-4 in road games in 2020-21. The Wildcats have lost 7 of their last 8 games.
“With situations like this, it’s in my mind to just, like, take us home,” Tate said of his execution at the foul line with his pressure-packed game-winners. “I just wanted to win it for my team.”
Davis talked about his steal that slammed the door on the host Wildcats.
“I told (freshman forward) Jaylin Williams before Jalen Tate shot his second free throw that I was going to get a steal,” Davis described it. “I got the steal and sealed it with a dub (win).”
The Razorbacks continued their mastery against teams ranked outside the NET Top 60 as they moved to 15-0, while at the same time ending the ‘Cats dominance in the series that last saw the Hogs defeat Kentucky during the ’13-14 season in a home-and-away season sweep — two wins earned in overtime.
Second-year head coach Eric Musselman evened his record in SEC games (15-15) as well as head-to-head matchups (1-1) coaching against the Kentucky’s John Calipari, and he notched his 35th victory as Head Hog.
It was truly a balanced attack for the Hogs as Tate led with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists; freshman guard Moses Moody had 14 points (including 11 in the second half) and a team-high-matching 7 rebounds; sophomore stretch-5 Connor Vanover finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks; junior guard JD Notae contributed 11 points; Williams chipped in 9 points and a team-high-matching 7 rebounds; senior forward Justin Smith had 9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals; senior forward Vance Jackson, Jr., had 5 points and 3 rebounds; and Davis put in 4 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals.
Arkansas made 27-of-62 field goals (42.5%), including a respectable 9-of-24 from 3 (37.5%), and 18-of-23 free throws (78.3%). Defensively, the Hogs’ mix of packed-in man and zone defenses limited Kentucky offensively in the paint and mid-range as the ‘Cats made only 11-of-35 on two-point baskets (31.4%), but the gamble and tradeoff was leaving perimeter shooters open in what snowballed into an uncharacteristically phenomenal shooting night from distance for Kentucky. The ‘Cats also got on the offensive glass (12 boards) and manufactured free throw opportunities (16-of-25 for 64.0%) to complement their blistering-hot three-point shooting night.
The Hogs won the turnover battle (11-6, including an 8-1 advantage in steals), points-off-turnovers (12-4), points-in-the-paint (32-20), fast-break-points (15-11 after being minus-7 in that category in the first half), and bench points (27-19). The Wildcats won the rebounding battle (42-33) and second-chance-points (11-6).
“I thought we played, in spurts, really well,” Musselman said. “Obviously, our gameplan was to try to do as good a job as we could in the paint, which I thought we did. We actually outscored them in points-in-the-paint. They normally don’t shoot the three-ball like that, so you have to give them credit for knocking down 14-of-26. If you play the numbers, that’s usually not their game.
“But I thought we did a great job of battling. They made a run there at the end, but Devo with the huge steal. Our guys are programmed not to call a timeout in that late-game situation. I thought Devo did a good job penetrating, and then Jalen attacking the rim to draw two free throws, then obviously the two clutch free throws. Huge, huge win for us.”
Next up for Arkansas is another road game against No. 10 Missouri on Saturday.
Against Kentucky, Musselman started Moody, Vanover, Davis, Smith, Tate for the second consecutive game.
Kentucky started 4-of-6 from three-point range and held an early plus-4 advantage on the glass (11-7) in building a 21-15 lead, but the Hogs chipped away and would go head 22-21 on a Notae three-pointer midway through the first half. Both teams traded buckets and empty possessions from there, but Davis outscored the ‘Cats 4-2 in the final 2:45 as Arkansas carried a 36-35 lead into the break.
Notae led the Hogs with 8 points followed by Vanover’s 7, Vance Jackson, Jr.’s 5, Davis’ 4. Moody sat out the final 11 minutes with 2 fouls.
Arkansas shot 14-of-32 from the field (43.8%), including 5-of-11 from 3 (45.5%), but only 3-of-6 from the free throw line (50%). Kentucky was 10-of-32 from the field (31.3%), including 4-of-9 from 3 (44.4%), and 11-of-17 from the foul line (64.7%). The ‘Cats won the first-half glass (25-19), second-chance-points (5-0), and fast-break points (7-0), but Arkansas won turnovers (5-3) and points-in-the-paint (16-10).