The Arkansas Razorbacks were potentially facing another double-digit-margin loss when junior Desi Sills and freshmen Jaylin Williams and Davonte “Davis” Davis — all playing off the bench — sparked a comeback from a 19-point deficit for a 75-73 win Wednesday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Arkansas trailed by as many as 19 points in the first half and by an even dozen at the break, but an 18-4 run to start the second half was capped by Williams’ one-handed putback slam to put the Hogs ahead, 49-47. The game was tied, 56-all, at the 9:10 mark when the Hogs — much like they did down the stretch in their win at Auburn — began winning grind-game plays at both ends of the floor for an 18-10 run that culminated in two Sills free throws at the 2:40 mark that gave Arkansas its biggest lead, 74-66.
Auburn would claw back within a point, 74-73, on a layup by uber-talented freshman guard Sharife Cooper with 1:03 left in the game, but it was a contested Cooper miss on a layup attempt with 0:05 left followed by a defensive rebound by freshman guard and Little Rock native Moses Moody that effectively ended the game. Moody was fouled with 0:02 remaining and made 1-of-2 free throws for the final margin. Moody’s former Little Rock Parkview teammate, Auburn sophomore wing Allen Flanigan, missed a 3-point halfcourt heave at the buzzer.
The Hogs (11-4, 3-4 SEC, NCAA NET No. 38 entering Wednesday) snapped a two-game losing streak and have now swept the Tigers on the season, which includes a 97-85 road win over Auburn in the league opener for both teams on Dec. 30. Second-year head coach Eric Musselman improved to 11-15 in SEC games and now has a 2-1 record head-to-head against Auburn’s Bruce Pearl. The Tigers (8-7, 2-5 SEC, NCAA NET No. 78 entering Saturday) saw their two-game winning streak snapped.
Sills — he had failed to reach double figures scoring in 4 of the Hogs’ last 5 games — broke out of his slump to notch a team-high 22 points (7-of-12 field goals and 8-of-10 free throws), coming up two points shy of his career-high 24 points scored against Auburn in that road win in the league opener. Williams and Davis combined for 17 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal with most of that production coming in the second half and serving as a catalyst for the comeback.
“I was in a slump, and my teammates kept on talking to me, encouraged me to keep my head up high, and I just kept working each and every day,” Sills said after the win. “I feel it paid off tonight. Hard work always pays off.”
Senior guard Jalen Tate contributed 14 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, and 5 turnovers before fouling out. Senior combo forward Justin Smith, in his second game back after missing four games following surgery for a foot injury he suffered against Auburn on Dec. 30, had 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. Moody, the team’s leading scorer coming in at 17.6 points per game, struggled shooting the ball but finished with 5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
Cooper, playing in just his fourth game for Auburn, led the Tigers with 25 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Forward JT Thor had 12 points and 5 rebounds. Flanigan along with fellow Arkansans Javon Franklin and Chris Moore each scored in the game and combined for 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Arkansas shot just over 38% from the field in the first half, but made 18-of-34 from the field in the second half to finish the game 30-of-65 overall for a respectable 46.2%, including 4-of-14 from 3 for 26.7%. The Hogs were 11-of-15 from the free throw line for 73.3%. Meanwhile, Arkansas did a much better job defending and limiting Cooper in the second half, resulting in the hot-shooting Tigers making only 9-of-31 from the field for 29% in the final 20 minutes. For the game, the Tigers were 25-of-58 from the field for 43.1%, including 7-of-23 from 3 for 30.4%. Auburn made 15-of-29 three-pointers against the Hogs the first time the teams met. The Tigers were 16-of-24 from the free throw line for 66.7%.
Arkansas won the rebounding battle (36-34) as Williams — he started the second half — collected a game-high 7 boards to go with a game-high-matching 2 blocks. The Hogs also won points-in-the-paint (48-32), bench points (42-18), fast-break points (15-12), and turnovers (17-16). Arkansas’ bench outscored Arkansas’ starters, 42-33.
“We just talked about playing a little bit looser offensively (in the second half),” Musselman said. “I thought we had some great back-door cuts. I just thought we needed a few shots to go down, and then obviously the 53% shooting in the second half along with our defense. I thought our trapping was phenomenal … We just didn’t want Cooper to have a high volume assists. He’s averaging close to 10 assists a game, and our big thing was not to allow him to get easy layups and dunks for his teammates.”
Musselman started a lineup of Moody, Tate, Connor Vanover, Smith, and JD Notae, who made his first start as a Hog.
Auburn used a prolonged 20-5 run to take a 27-11 lead, then the Tigers spurted again, 10-2, to extend to their largest lead in the first 20 minutes, 37-18, at the 4:17 mark. But Tate, Sills, Williams, and Vance Jackson, Jr., would each score in a 13-6 Razorbacks run as Arkansas pulled within 12 at the break, 43-31.
Auburn shot 16-of-27 from the field (59.3%) in the first half, including 4-of-9 from 3 (44.4%), and 7-of-9 free throws. Arkansas shot 12-of-31 field goals (38.7%), including 3-of-10 from 3 (30%), and 4-of-5 free throws. The Tigers were plus-4 on the glass (17-13), plus-6 on second-chance points (6-0), and plus-4 in points-in-the-paint (20-16). both teams were sloppy with the basketball as Auburn had 12 turnovers compared to Arkansas’ 11.