FAYETTEVILLE — LSU did its best to ruin Arkansas’ Final Four celebration Saturday, scoring seven straight points to take its first lead in the second half.
Arkansas forward Alandise Harris made sure the Tigers didn’t ruin the party.
Or end the Razorbacks’ hopes of climbing into the NCAA Tournament conversation.
Harris’ driving one-handed dunk over LSU forward Johnny O’Bryant ignited a late Arkansas run, helping the Razorbacks roll to an 81-70 win against in front of 18,904 in Bud Walton Arena.
The thundering basket keyed a 27-10 stretch to close the game, energizing the Razorbacks and a season-high crowd that included former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former coaches Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson, and a host of former players in town to celebrate Arkansas’ six Final Four teams.
“You always talk about momentum, and you never know when it’s going to take place,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said about Harris’ key play.
“It was good to see him kind of unleash the beast in him. That’s what we needed at that point and time, and it just went through our basketball team.”
It helped Arkansas — two days removed from a last-second loss at Missouri — continue its stretch of strong performances in the second half of conference play.
Guard Ky Madden finished with a game-high 21 points, while Coty Clarke added 16 — all in the second half — to lead four Arkansas players in double figures. The Razorbacks (16-9, 5-7 Southeastern Conference) avenged their loss at LSU (15-9, 6-6) earlier this season and won for the third time in the past four games.
“They started a good run and we needed something just to settle us down and Alandise came out with a big dunk,” Madden said. “He made a big play and that started the run, gave us the energy we needed to finish the game.”
Harris’ dunk put an end to what had been a sluggish second half for Arkansas.
The Razorbacks — who jumped out to an early 14-4 lead behind some sharp shooting behind the three-point line — led LSU for the first 30 minutes Saturday. But they trailed for the first time when LSU guard Andre Stringer made a three-pointer with 11 minutes left.
The deficit grew to 57-54 on an O’Bryant dunk.
Harris responded on Arkansas’ next possession. He got the ball on the right wing, slashed by O’Bryant and threw the ball through the rim. The dunk came with Clinton, Richardson and Sutton sitting in courtside seats a few feet away.
“He’s always trying to get Showtime, so he Show-Timed and he was happy about that,” Clarke said. “It just turned up the intensity on the defensive end, so we were able to make plays on the defensive end and rebound and lead to easy points.”
Arkansas took the lead on its next possession when Bobby Portis, who had 15 points and eight rebounds, made a layup to make it 58-57. The Razorbacks never trailed again.
“They made some big shots when they needed to,” O’Bryant said. “(Harris) guy stepped up and hit a big shot on us. That’s the advantage of playing at home. You hit big shots when you need to.”
Harris finished with eight points, four rebounds and three blocks Saturday, turning in a well-rounded effort off the bench. It was needed with Arkansas short-handed in the frontcourt. Moses Kingsley didn’t play after suffering a hip injury at Missouri.
Clarke played a key role, too, after fighting through first-half foul trouble. The senior scored 16 points in the second half, went 3 for 4 behind the three-point line, and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
The duo — along with Portis and his 35-minute effort Saturday — helped Arkansas turn in a better performance against LSU’s frontcourt of O’Bryant (20 points, 16 rebounds), Jordan Mickey (eight points, 10 rebounds) and Jarell Martin (eight points, four rebounds) than the 88-74 loss in Baton Rouge, La., on Feb. 1.
The three combined for 60 points two weeks ago, but were limited to 36 points Saturday.
“I thought our defense, they were guessing where we were coming from,” Anderson said. “We did a lot of double-teaming on O’Bryant at times and those guys were the recipients of the last time we played of just diving to the hole like they did in the first two plays where they scored dunks.
“We made the adjustment and made them skip the ball out and made them shoot jump shots. We did a good job of attacking them and getting into foul trouble, and they had to be careful as they were playing.”
Madden’s confident performance was critical once again.
The guard scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half, went 12 for 14 from the free-throw line and handed out five assists.
He showed some flair, too, that capped off the memorable night. After an LSU turnover, Madden caught a long outlet pass from guard Mardracus Wade, flipped a behind-the-back pass into the air for Portis, who caught it for a layup.
The basket gave Arkansas a 75-66 lead with 3:19 left.
“That was my first time ever doing that,” Madden said. “I just threw it and just trusted him enough to go and get it. It was a four-on-one, so I knew if it was a little dude defending him, I knew if I got it by the rim there was a good chance that one of my players was going to get it.”
It helped capped a memorable day in which Arkansas honored its six Final Four teams — and Clinton — during a halftime ceremony. Richardson addressed the crowd and presented Clinton with a framed No. 42 jersey. Clinton spoke as well, then wrapped up the ceremony by leading a Hog Call.
Anderson said it played a big part in what he described as an “electric atmosphere” in Bud Walton Arena. One Harris, Madden and the Razorbacks wouldn’t waste.
“I felt like we were going to win this game no matter what,” Madden said. “It didn’t matter if they were going to be here or not. I just felt we needed the win and our team was going to come out and do it.”