FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson predicted in the preseason that Missouri’s first trip into Bud Walton Arena as a Southeastern Conference opponent would prove to be an interesting afternoon.
Anderson had to amend his statement, though, after Arkansas beat Missouri 73-71 on Saturday behind an improbable surge in the final minute.
“It was more than interesting,” Anderson said. “It was a heck of a ballgame.”
Arkansas — 11 days after its dominant win against then-No. 2 Florida in Bud Walton Arena — remained undefeated at home in SEC games after stealing a win from the Tigers in front of an announced crowd of 19,004. Guard BJ Young was the catalyst of the comeback Saturday, scoring seven points in 29.3 seconds to help the Razorbacks erase a four-point deficit and slip away with another big win.
It helped the Arkansas (16-9, 7-5) improve to 15-1 in Bud Walton Arena this season and move into a tie in the standings with Missouri (18-7, 7-5). It also fueled what may eventually bud into an intense conference rivalry between the programs.
“I just feel as the years go on with them being in our conference, it’s going to get interesting,” Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell said.
The first meeting as SEC members certainly provided its share of rivalry fodder.
It began with Anderson coaching against his former team — and two players he refers to as “sons” in Laurence Bowers and Phil Pressey — for the first time since his departure after the 2010-11 season. There was physical play and intensity throughout the game, with players being separated by officials on a few occasions.
And then there was the bizarre finish. One that seemed to eat at Missouri coach Frank Haith, who began his postgame news conference by telling the media: “Don’t ask me about the officiating. I’m not going to get in trouble today.” And one that left Young still trying to figure out how the Razorbacks walked away with a win.
“It was just one of the craziest games I ever played in, if not the craziest game,” said Young, a St. Louis native who faced his home state team for the first time. “I still kind of can’t believe what happened at the end, that we’re on the winning end.”
Missouri — which jumped out to a 9-0 lead Saturday, held a 33-29 advantage at the break, and outscored the Razorbacks 14-5 over a five-minute stretch late to seemingly take control of the game — came close to handing Arkansas its second home loss of the year.
The Tigers weren’t perfect, but leaned on a 25-point performance from guard Keion Bell and a strong rebounding effort (47-31 edge over the Hogs) to take a 70-66 lead with 34 seconds left.
Bell fouled Young as he drove to the basket five seconds later. Young’s layup rolled through the basket. He made a free throw and the 3-point play cut it to 70-69.
Missouri’s Jabari Brown went 1 for 2 from the free-throw line two seconds later and Young went to work again. Another drive. Another foul by Bell. Another layup.
Young’s second 3-point play gave the Hogs a 72-71 lead with 19 seconds remaining.
“It was just good plays,” said Bell, who answered a question only after Haith leaned in to tell him they were ‘good plays.’ “He penetrated hard. There was contact there and he finished through the contact. So it was just two strong plays.”
Bell had to go to the bench after fouling out and Missouri turned to Pressey for what it hoped would be the final possession of the game. The ball was inbounded to the point guard near midcourt, but he ran into a double team. Clarke poked the ball away with 10 seconds left, dribbled downcourt and made a mistake of his own.
Clarke tried to score instead of forcing Missouri to foul him, then threw a pass in traffic that was deflected and trickled out of bounds. Two officials didn’t see who it went off of and signaled for a jump ball. The possession arrow pointed to the Razorbacks.
Young was fouled on the inbounds play with 5.3 seconds left and went 1 for 2 at the line. Arkansas had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but did just enough on defense as Brown’s last-second 3-point attempt missed the mark.
“It was a tough 30 (seconds), because for a minute there, it looked kind of bleak for us,” Young said. “But we just had to keep fighting and never gave up.”
Young and his teammates sprinted to the stands to celebrate with the student section, while Anderson shook hands with the Tigers. He embraced Bowers (two points on 1-for-10 shooting) and Pressey (nine points on 2-for-9 shooting), who were the only players remaining on the Missouri roster who played for Anderson.
“I told (Bowers) that you have a good team and you’re getting there, just keep working,” Anderson said. “We were lucky (Saturday). We were fortunate.”
Young’s late scoring spree helped him finish with 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting.
Clarke also produced offensively, scoring 13 points. The forward, who was 3 for 9 from behind the 3-point line entering the game, went 3 for 3 on Saturday.
Powell played even bigger, scoring 24 points. He started slow, but played a vital role in helping the Razorbacks bounce back from a nine-point deficit in the first half.
The Razorbacks trailed at halftime in Bud Walton Arena for just the second time this season. They surged ahead behind Powell, who scored 10 consecutive points — including a 3-pointer that gave the Hogs their first lead at 39-37.
“My team needs me, so I’ve got to step up,” Powell said. “My team tells me all the time, one-on-one on the block it’s hard to stop me. So that’s what I went to, and I just tried to grind it out and get points for my team.”
Bell’s 25 points were a season-high. Missouri also got 16 points from Earnest Ross, who transferred to the Tigers after beginning his career at Auburn.
Haith never mentioned the officials after the initial statement to begin his postgame news conference. But he complimented his team for how hard it competed “under the circumstances” on several occasions Saturday night.
Anderson felt the same about his team, which has won four of its past five games after a 3-4 start in SEC play. He deflected questions about what the win meant for him personally, saying it wasn’t anything other than a “great, great game.”
“Obviously with the story lines that you guys are writing about and talking about, that builds it up,” Anderson said. “But I guess I am just a humble guy. I want our team to come out and play as hard as they could and we were very, very fortunate.”