COLUMBIA, Mo. — Arkansas carried its newfound road confidence to Mizzou Arena on Thursday night, believing it was capable of grabbing another important win.
The Razorbacks proved it in the opening minutes, racing out to an early lead. They showed some resilience later, recovering after falling into a double-digit hole in the second half. Arkansas even made a handful of key plays down the stretch, putting itself in position to stun Missouri on its home court.
It still wasn’t enough to secure its first road win streak in four years.
Missouri guard Jabari Brown drove to the basket and made a late layup to give the Tigers the lead, then Arkansas guard Ky Madden missed on the other end to wrap up the Tigers’ 86-85 win in front of an announced crowd of 12,362 in Mizzou Arena.
The sequence helped Missouri (17-7, 5-6 in SEC) snap a three-game losing streak, sweep of the season series against Arkansas and spoil Anderson’s second trip back to face his former program. It also forced the Razorbacks to fall short in their bid to win back-to-back road games for the first time since 2010, missing an opportunity to grab another key road win as they try to make a late push for postseason play.
“Give credit to Missouri,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “They made one more play than we did. We were in position and did not finish the deal. But I’ve got to give credit to them. Brown made a play and that’s what good players do is make plays.”
It spoiled Arkansas’ plan to avenge the loss in Fayetteville earlier this season and erase the memory of the 30-point loss to the Tigers in Mizzou Arena last March.
Arkansas (15-9, 4-7 in SEC) nearly made it happen five days after getting its first road win at Vanderbilt last Saturday. The Razorbacks led 19-12 in the opening minutes, struggled for spurts, but recovered from an 11-point deficit in the second half. Arkansas also found itself in wrap up a win after guard Mardracus Wade made a layup to give the Razorbacks an 85-83 lead with 1:17 remaining.
But Arkansas couldn’t finish off the Tigers.
The Razorbacks had the ball with 47 seconds left when Anderson called a timeout to talk to his team. Arkansas looked uncomfortable throughout the ensuing possession, which eventually ended when Madden stepped out of bounds.
Missouri took advantage of the empty possession. Point guard Jordan Clarkson, who had thrived by driving to the basket most of the game, took himself out of the final play after Wade met him at midcourt to defend the inbounds pass.
“I just made a decision to stay back, because then there was going to be nobody to help on Jabari’s drive, or whatever he’s going to do,” Clarkson said.
So Missouri got the ball in Brown’s hands and the teams played four-on-four during the Tigers’ final possession. Brown — the SEC’s leading scorer — drove to the basket and scored, giving Missouri a one-point lead with 12 seconds left.
“Once Jordan bailed out, I said, ‘Jabari, go, go.’ And he went and made a play,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. He’s got so much better going off the bounce. Last year he was a catch and shoot guy. He’s more creative. He’s worked hard at that.”
Anderson called another timeout after the bucket and drew up another play to put the ball in Madden’s hands with 10 seconds left. The junior — who led Arkansas with 17 points — waited for a screen from Coty Clarke and tried to beat the defender to the basket. Madden was able to get off a shot, but it missed the mark.
The ball fell to the floor and both teams scrambled for it as time expired.
“It was pretty tough losing at the end like that,” said Arkansas forward Alandise Harris, who turned in his best performance in SEC play with 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting. “We fought back in the game and made some big plays. We just didn’t get that one stop that we needed at the end. Or make a play when we needed it.”
Missouri won by leaning on its three-guard lineup once again. Clarkson (27 points), Brown (25) and Earnest Ross (15 points, 11 rebounds) combined to score 67 of Missouri’s 86 points. They were responsible for 31 of 38 in the second half.
The duo also contributed to Missouri’s impressive success at the free-throw line.
Missouri – which made its final 17 attempts in the 75-71 win in Fayetteville earlier this season — made 23 straight to open Thursday’s game. The streak ended at 40 straight when Brown missed the first of two attempts with 14:03 left, but the Tigers finished 34-for-38 at the line in the win.
Clarkson, Brown and Ross went 30-for-34 from the line.
“Obviously we had the right guys going to the line,” said Haith, who improved to 3-1 against Anderson and the Razorbacks. “Those guys can all shoot it pretty good.”
Arkansas shot the ball well, too, in a game that dragged on because of 50 personal fouls. The Razorbacks went 29-for-37 from the free-throw line.
Arkansas also put together a much-improved effort on the boards after struggling in the first meeting (Missouri held a 40-34 edge). The Razorbacks matched the Tigers with 36 points in the paint, forced 13 turnovers and shot 42.6 percent, too.
“We didn’t quit,” said Arkansas forward Bobby Portis, who finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds. “We just fought to the end.”
Anderson said it’s a sign his team is playing “at another level” now after struggling through a 2-6 start in conference play. But the obvious improvement outside Bud Walton Arena also made it difficult to swallow a last-minute loss.
Arkansas is now 2-4 in SEC games decided by five points or less.
“I’ll take the blame for this one here,” Anderson said. “They were ready to win this game. … It’s just a couple of things here, couple of misplays here or misplays there. A couple of stops and it’s a different ballgame.”