10-seed Hogs survive 7-seed Auburn's comeback attempt
Nashville, Tenn. --- No. 10 seed Arkansas (20-12, 8-10 SEC) outlasted No. 7 seed Auburn's late comeback attempt, 76-73, in the second round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
Nick Smith Jr.'s baseline jumper under pressure with 19 seconds left ultimately proved to be the game-winning basket, giving Arkansas a 74-73 lead after Auburn had pulled ahead 73-72 on an Allen Flanigan jumper with 39 seconds remaining for its first lead since 2-0 shortly after the game tipped off.
The Razorbacks set the pace early on with their quick playstyle, outscoring the Tigers in the paint and dominating them on the glass to the tune of 37-19.
Anthony Black led Arkansas with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists, and Smith Jr. finished with 14 points.
Makhi Mitchell added 12 points and six rebounds along with Jordan Walsh's 11 points for the Hogs. Ricky Council IV surpassed 1,000 career points, contributing seven in the close contest.
K.D. Johnson and Flanigan led the Tigers' offensive charge with 20 points and 15 points, respectively. Johni Broome tacked on 13 along with seven boards while Wendell Green Jr. scored all of his 11 points in the first half.
Smith Jr. fed off the Hogs' early energy, snatching the ball from Flanigan and passing it off to Davis for a layup, bringing an already riled-up crowd to their feet. Davis splashed a three before snagging a board to fire a quick pass down the court Council IV to slam one down on the fast break, giving Arkansas the early lead at 17-10.
Green Jr. drained one from distance in response, but the Hogs showed no signs of slowing, embarking on a 10-0 run to create space, 22-15, midway through the first. Council IV continued his reign on the rim as the crowd erupted in response as the Hogs surged to a 10-point lead, 30-20.
Walsh flushed a second-chance dunk down before Tigers went on a quick run. The Auburn crowd got rowdy as Dylan Cardwell slammed one down prior to two fast-break layups by Johnson off Arkansas turnovers, closing in before the halftime buzzer, 37-33.
At the half, Arkansas was beating Auburn on the boards, 19-7, and had scored 24 points in the paint compared to the Tigers' 16. The Razorbacks racked up nine fast-break points and were relentless on the rim with five dunks in the first period. Both teams relied heavily on their depth with double digit points coming from each bench.
The Hogs' hot-shooting fired off at the start of the second, helping them pull away again with an 11-point advantage, 44-33. They refused to let go of the double-digit lead as a Smith Jr. dunk was followed up with two Arkansas second-chance jumpers, widening the gap to 15, 54-37, at the 14-minute mark before Auburn called time.
The 15-point lead would be the largest Arkansas held all night.
The Tigers' timeout proved to be well-timed, as Johnson returned to the court as a man on a mission. He ignited a 12-3 run featuring both a 3-pointer and a second-chance driving layup, allowing Auburn to close to within 62-58 with 8:25 remaining.
Auburn's hot pursuit continued as Broome wouldn't back down, tallying two layups before a few made free throws dwindled the Razorbacks' lead to 70-69 with 2:47 on the clock.
Flanigan's jumper eventually gave the Tigers their 73-72 lead with 39 seconds remaining.
With the entire stadium on their feet, Smith Jr.'s two-point shot snatched back the lead for Arkansas.
Broome subsequently sent Davis to the free throw line after he stole the ball with only 11 seconds to go. Davis' pair of free throws proved to be enough as Green Jr. missed a last-second 3-point attempt that could have tied it and sent the contest into overtime.
Arkansas will face 2-seed Texas A&M (23-8, 15-3 SEC) in the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on Friday at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be aired on SEC Network.
Auburn (20-12, 10-8 SEC) is eliminated from the tournament.