FAYETTEVILLE — Missouri hadn’t experienced success in Bud Walton Arena entering Tuesday night’s game, suffering six losses in the building’s existence.
Guard Earnest Ross made sure the struggles ended Tuesday.
Ross made the biggest basket of the night — a three-pointer with 1:08 remaining — to lead Missouri to a 75-71 win in front of an announced crowd of 14,102 in Bud Walton Arena. The senior broke open a tie game with the outside shot and the Razorbacks had no answer, failing to come up with key plays down the stretch.
It led to Missouri’s first win in Fayetteville since the 1991-92 season, snapping a six-game losing streak in Arkansas. It also added to the Razorbacks’ misery in Southeastern Conference play and further damaged its thinning NCAA Tournament hopes. Arkansas is now 13-7 overall, 2-5 in the SEC with a pair of home losses.
“It’s kind of unchartered territory for us,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “We’ve done a good job of defending the home court. … Let’s give Missouri some credit. I thought (coach) Frank (Haith) had his guys really charged up. I thought they brought more energy, and I thought in the end, they wanted it a little bit more than we did and their guys made plays for them going down the stretch.”
Ross and guard Jabari Brown — two-thirds of Missouri’s dangerous three-guard lineup — scored 24 points apiece to lead the Tigers (16-4, 4-3 in SEC). Arkansas knew defending the trio — which also included point guard Jordan Clarkson — would be critical. But the Razorbacks couldn’t slow them when it mattered Tuesday.
Ross and Brown carried the scoring load in the second half, combining for 35 of Missouri’s 39 points. They were the only Tigers to knock down shots in the second half, too, accounting for each of Missouri’s nine field goals.
Most of the baskets answered Arkansas’ charges in the second half.
“I think it’s extremely important, particularly on the road in keeping their crowd out of it,” Haith said. “I thought we answered when they made a run. I thought we did a great job of answering their baskets.”
None was bigger than Ross’ jump shot, which came on the possession after Arkansas guard Ky Madden tied the game with a three-point play with 1:59 left.
The Razorbacks got a stop when Clarkson missed a short jumper, but Ross grabbed an offensive rebound over Madden. Haith called a timeout to draw up a play, which resulted in Clarkson driving the lane and kicking the ball out to Ross.
Ross — who began his career at Auburn — didn’t miss the open three-pointer.
“When Jordan is able to create and get into the lane like that, the kick out is always going to be open,” Ross said. “Just have the confidence to knock it down.”
Arkansas still had time to respond on the next possession, but Madden hurried a shot in the lane and it missed the mark. Missouri grabbed the rebound, Ross was fouled and made two free throws to push the lead to five with 46 seconds left.
The Razorbacks missed three-pointers on their next two possessions, watching the Tigers polish off a successful night at the free-throw line. Missouri was 8 for 8 from the free-throw line in the final minute and 16 for 16 in the second half.
“Obviously, it was a great win for us,” Haith said. “I thought we showed great toughness to come into this building, which is one of the great buildings in the country, and Arkansas is a great team. So, I’m proud of our kids, how they held it together and we were able to come out of here with a ‘W.’”
Arkansas, meanwhile, was left lamenting another missed opportunity.
“It hurt. It hurt bad,” said Madden, who led the Razorbacks with 20 points on 5-for-15 shooting. “Not just the loss at home. The loss in conference period.”
Anderson believed his team was missing its usual intensity in Bud Walton Arena and it was evident early, when the Razorbacks fell into a 10-3 hole after missing eight of its first nine shots against Missouri’s zone defense.
Arkansas’ only offensive success in the first half came from behind the three-point line, going 8-for-17 from long range. The Razorbacks were 2-for-10 inside. But the struggles against the zone didn’t cripple Arkansas, which trailed 36-34.
Rebounding did. Missouri dominated Arkansas on the boards Tuesday, holding a 42-26 advantage. The Tigers had 16 offensive rebounds that led to 15 points.
“I feel like we lost focus,” said Michael Qualls, who snapped out of his slump to 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting. “We had been focusing on winning the rebound battle, but (Tuesday) I felt we lost focus. We got killed on the boards and it was big.”
Anderson, who is now 45-6 in home games at Arkansas, said his team was hurt in the locker room after falling at home for the second time this season.
The Razorbacks knew they needed to string together wins after falling into an early 1-4 hole in conference play. But the Razorbacks couldn’t follow Saturday’s 19-point win against Auburn with another victory in Fayetteville.
Anderson was asked about Arkansas’ fading NCAA Tournament hopes, but wouldn’t look at the big picture. Instead, he was more concerned about making sure his team was ready for another road game at LSU.
“I’m more concerned about us continuing to get better, Anderson said. “I thought we took a half-a-step back from what we’ve been doing (Tuesday).”