FAYETTEVILLE — Guard BJ Young came through for Arkansas for the second straight game, making a twisting scoop shot in the closing seconds to help the Razorbacks wrap up a 62-60 win against Georgia on Thursday night.
It was hard to tell he made the game-winner afterward, though.
The sophomore, whose layup helped the Razorbacks grab a nail-biting victory in front of an announced crowd of 9,614 in Bud Walton Arena, wasn’t happy about the way it all played out in the postgame interview room. Young didn’t exactly think it should’ve come down to a game-winning layup on Arkansas’ final possession.
“I just felt like we let them hang around and let them gain confidence,” Young said. “That was our fault. We should have just come out from the start and jumped on them … but it didn’t happen like that. It came down to the wire.”
Arkansas (17-9, 8-5 in Southeastern Conference) survived, though, making enough big plays down the stretch to hold off a Georgia (12-14, 6-7 in SEC) team that made a late charge behind the SEC’s second-leading scorer in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Young’s layup — which was followed by Georgia guard Vincent Williams’ last-second miss— was the final sequence in what may be remembered as an ugly win Thursday. But Arkansas coach Mike Anderson also referred to as a sign of growth.
“We’re finding ways to win,” Anderson said. “That’s what good teams do.
“We continue to get better. We continue to have other guys step in and really help our basketball team win. That’s a good thing. “This game was played at Georgia’s pace and we found a way to win. That’s a good sign.”
It meant Arkansas has won three straight SEC games for the first time since the 2009-10 season. It also added to a stretch in which the Razorbacks have won five of six conference games, keeping any hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament alive.
A win at home against Georgia was one the Razorbacks had to secure with a daunting test at Florida looming. Arkansas accomplished it, grabbing its second straight two-point win after beating Missouri 73-71 behind Young last Saturday.
The Hogs needed help from another source before the late-game drama Thursday night. Freshman guard Anthlon Bell came off the bench to score a game-high 17 points. He went 6-for-10 from the field and 5-for-8 from behind the 3-point line, serving as the bright spot in an ugly offensive outing (Arkansas shot 38.6 percent).
“Give that kid credit,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “He made some big shots. Really, that was the difference in the game. His shooting was critical.”
Bell was a surprise substitution at the 15:06 mark. He had averaged just 5.9 minutes in Arkansas’ conference games before Thursday and was scoreless in seven straight, but Anderson said he had a “gut” feeling Bell was capable of helping.
He quickly knocked down a 3-pointer to help the Hogs take a 9-4 lead. Bell made two more in the first half as well, putting the Razorbacks up 18-6.
“When I hit the first one I know I feel pretty confident,” Bell said.
It was need during a half in which Arkansas didn’t have its starting frontline of Marshawn Powell and Coty Clarke after the duo picked up two fouls. The Razorbacks were whistled for 11 fouls in all during the sloppy half, which helped Georgia go 9-for-13 from the free-throw line.
But the Razorbacks held a 28-18 lead into the locker room thanks to Bell and a defensive effort that left Caldwell-Pope scoreless on four shots at halftime.
“I thought we wore them down,” Anderson said of Arkansas’ work guarding Caldwell-Pope in the first half. “I thought we were just in his face wherever he was. We were just trying to make him put it on the floor. We were real alert.”
Bell helped Arkansas build a 41-30 lead after the break, scoring eight straight to set a career-high of 17 points. He had just 18 points in SEC play before Thursday.
Arkansas wouldn’t maintain the double-digit lead for long, though, after Georgia went on an 11-0 run over the next three minutes to tie the game at 41-41.
The Razorbacks — who were forced to play without Powell after the forward picked up his fourth foul with 15:17 left in the game — snapped the drought when Young made a layup. But Georgia’s big run set the stage for a game that would be tied eight more times throughout the final eight minutes Thursday night.
“I don’t think our team played with much courage in the first half.” Fox said about the difference with his team. “We just decided we wanted to start competing.”
Arkansas fell behind for the first time when Caldwell-Pope, who shrugged off his slow start to score Georgia’s final 13 points, made a 3-pointer with 2:33 left. Powell, who returned to the game at the 5-minute mark after sitting for more than 10 minutes, answered with a critical 3-pointer on the other end with 1:58 left.
Powell also scored Arkansas’ next bucket on a layup with 46 seconds left to break a 58-58 tie. He was fouled on the play — Fox wanted a travel called on Powell’s drive — but couldn’t make the free throw. Georgia quickly answered on the other end with a layup by Caldwell-Pope to tie the game for the final time at 60-60.
It set up Young’s late-game heroics. The guard got a screen at the top of the key from Clarke and rolled to the basket. He had to twist and float up a scoop shot, which got over Georgia forward Nemanja Djurisic’s hand and into the basket.
Williams pushed the ball to the other end but his final shot missed the mark.
“I have done it a lot in my life – whether it is on a big stage or not,” Young said of his game-winning basket. “I expect to do it if I get the chance to take advantage of those situations. I just try to make a play and my teammates have confidence in me.”
Young finished with 8 points on 4 of 10 shooting. It was just the fifth time this season he has scored less than 10 points. Arkansas lost three of those games.
Powell — who is the SEC Player of the Week — finished with 11 point despite the foul trouble that limited the junior to 15 minutes Thursday.
“It wasn’t how we planned it to happen,” Anderson said of the close call Thursday. “But as that old coach used to tell me, a raggedy ride is better than a smooth walk.
“We didn’t play our best but found a way to win.”
Young realized that in the end, too. It wasn’t a pretty performance. But the Razorbacks got to celebrate at home once again anyway.
“It was sloppy, but a win is a win,” Young said. “I felt like we could have played a lot better, but we still won, and that’s what matters.”