The Razorback men’s basketball team (11-4, 3-4 SEC) overcame a 19-point deficit to defeat Auburn (8-7, 2-5) at Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday night.
As Auburn trailed the Hogs with eight ticks left on the clock, freshman Sharife Cooper drove into the lane looking to put the Tigers ahead in the final seconds. Instead, he was met by a swarm of Razorbacks, and freshman guard Moses Moody blocked his game-winning attempt and grabbed the loose ball.
“We felt like (Cooper) would take the shot even if somebody else might have been open for a kick out,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said in a postgame press conference. “So, it was important for us to clog the lane and not let him be the guy to finish the game.”
Arkansas won the game 75-73 after Moody added a point from the free-throw line and Auburn missed a half-court heave. The outcome seemed anything but probable in the first half when the Razorbacks trailed the Tigers by 19 before a mini-run brought the deficit to 12 at halftime.
The Razorbacks continued their bad habit of falling behind early in games. Despite the slow start, Musselman said he was pleased with his team’s resilience.
“I don’t think a team could have played any harder than we did in the second half,” Musselman said. “I would take that effort and the energy they played with anywhere against anyone.”
Arkansas came out of halftime on an 18-4 run and claimed a two-point advantage. Musselman credited the youngest players on the roster for turning the game around.
“Our three freshmen (Davonte Davis, Moses Moody and Jaylin Williams) I thought played a real pivotal role in the second half,” Musselman said.
Williams was not in the starting lineup but replaced sophomore forward Connor Vanover to begin the second half and was never subbed out.
“For a freshman big to play an entire 20 minutes, that is not easy,” Musselman said.
The young forward led the Hogs with seven rebounds and added seven points, two assists and two blocks.
Junior guard Desi Sills bounced back in a big way by leading the Razorbacks in scoring with 22 points. Sills scored just 25 points over the previous four games before Wednesday’s outburst.
“I was in a slump... I just kept working each and every day and I feel like it paid off tonight,” Sills said. “Hard work always pays off.”
Sills followed Musselman’s lead, praising Williams’ performance in the victory.
“Coach started him (in the second half) because he was doing everything in the first half to help us win,” Sills said.
The Razorbacks will look to capitalize on the momentum from this come-from-behind victory as they look to solidify their NCAA Tournament bid.
“I feel like if we keep this confidence up (that) we’re going to be just fine,” Sills said.
The Razorbacks will look to improve to .500 in SEC play as they travel to Nashville to face last-place Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-4) on Saturday, Jan. 23 at 12 p.m. The game will be televised on SEC Network.
Musselman was enthused with the play of his shortened rotation Wednesday night and hinted at future lineup changes.
“We are not going to have the same starting lineup at Vanderbilt,” Musselman said.
“I can tell you that.”