COLUMBIA, Mo. — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said several times he didn’t know what to expect stepping back into Missouri Arena.
The Tigers’ former coach got his answer after a 93-63 loss in front of an announced crowd of 15,061 in Mizzou Arena. There were boos from the crowd during pregame introductions, an inspired Missouri team determined to collect payback for last month’s disappointment at Arkansas, and a loss that equaled his largest in two seasons with the Razorbacks.
Missouri (22-8, 11-6 in Southeastern Conference) continued its late-season surge by beating up on Anderson’s overwhelmed Hogs (18-12, 9-7) during Senior Night. The Tigers used two big runs in the first half — including a 13-0 spurt over the final four minutes — to build a 26-point lead and never looked back, handing Arkansas its worst loss of the season and its worst in the series.
It also helped Missouri — which has been dominant at home the past five seasons — wrap up a perfect year in its building. And the best part for the Tigers? It came against the coach that bolted for his dream job after the 2010-11 season.
“The game was a big one,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot at stake this time of the year and they showed a desperation more so than we did.”
Arkansas was hoping for a different outcome after struggling on the road all season.
The Razorbacks needed to make a big impression for its postseason resume, too, during its final road game of the regular season. Instead, Arkansas was whipped in a nationally televised game and fell to 1-11 in games played outside of the state.
Any hope of grabbing an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament field went up in smoke at Missouri. The blowout leaves little doubt the Razorbacks will have to win an SEC Tournament title next week to get into the NCAA Tourney field.
“We knew there was going to be a lot of emotion,” Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar said. “This was the game I’m sure they circled the whole year and they’ve been waiting for, especially the fans. You’ve got to hand it to them. They played well.”
Haydar said Arkansas’ problems were obvious in the first half.
The Razorbacks entered the game planning to attack the rim, trying to take advantage of its quickness with players like Marshawn Powell, Coty Clarke and BJ Young. There was some success early, too. Missouri turned the ball over a handful of times in the first few minutes, which helped the Hogs take a 7-5 lead.
But then the Tigers settled down and Arkansas struggled offensively. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, took waves of 3-point shot that missed the mark and it put Arkansas in a big hole. The Razorbacks missed their first 12 3-pointers before Mardracus Wade knocked down a buzzer-beating shot to make it 35-22.
“It’s frustrating,” Haydar said. “Our gameplan coming in was not to shoot that many 3s to be honest with you. We did a bad job of following through on the gameplan.”
Missouri, meanwhile, had no trouble getting to the rim after its early turnover troubles and followed it with 3-point shots. Senior Laurence Bowers, who was recruited by Anderson, led the way after struggling in the first meeting.
The Tigers responded to Wade’s 3-pointer by putting together a 13-0 run to end the half. By the time it was over, Missouri was shooting 58.3 percent, outrebounded the Razorbacks 26-9, and held a 48-22 lead at the break.
The 48 points were the most Arkansas allowed in a half this season.
“It was just an intense game in terms of we needed to get a conference win,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said about his team’s performance on Senior Night. “It’s March, so everybody’s battling this time of year. … Senior night is always emotional. I talked to our guys about how to temper that. The first five minutes, you’re not going to knock anybody out of the game. I thought our guys handled it well.”
It didn’t get any better for the Razorbacks in the second half despite guard BJ Young’s efforts. The St. Louis native scored 20 of his 27 points after the break, but Arkansas trailed by as much as 34 points before the final margin.
Bowers led Missouri with 24 points, while Jabari Brown added 23. The Tigers shot 58 percent in the game and outrebounded the Razorbacks 44-19.
“It was a hard fought game, and that’s the big picture,” said Bowers, who declined to comment about Anderson’s return. “It was Missouri vs. Arkansas. I’m just glad that we got the win. We just have to continue to click on all cylinders and get better each and every day, and try to win the championship.”
Missouri reveled in the rout Tuesday night, celebrating at halfcourt after the Razorbacks walked off to the locker room. The Tigers’ three seniors each took turns addressing the crowd during a night loaded with emotions.
It started during pregame, when Missouri’s student section heckled the Razorbacks while they shot the basketball. Anderson received a resounding round of boos, too, when he walked onto the court the first time and was introduced with his lineup.
It was evident in both coaches, too, when Haith seemingly had to be restrained at one point as he stepped toward Anderson and the Arkansas bench at one point in the first half. Anderson smiled in return.
The two coaches spent extra time talking to each other after the game ended, but both described it as simply a misunderstanding during postgame press conferences.
“I thought it was a miscommunication,” Haith said. “I’m emotional and I was emotional for my team. I was encouraging my team and I think he thought I was saying something else, but I was only talking to my team.”
Either way, Anderson’s first trip back to Missouri with the Razorbacks was a night the Tigers will relish.
Anderson — who embraced Missouri athletic director Mike Alden after leaving the press conference podium Tuesday — said afterward they deserved it.
“Congratulations to Missouri,” Anderson said. “This was senior night and you expect emotions to run sky high. I thought those seniors set the stage for them. They came out and hit us, we kind of hit them back, and then they got a nice little cushion.”