Arkansas beats LSU to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Mason Jones scored 36 points — 20 in the first half — and Arkansas kept its slender NCAA Tournament hopes alive with a 99-90 win over LSU on Wednesday.
Arkansas (19-11, 7-10 SEC) led 55-34 at halftime and had three players score in double figures by intermission. Jimmy Whitt Jr., Desi Sills and Isaiah Joe joined him atop the box score with 26, 13 and 11 points respectively. Ethan Henderson added 10.
“Offensively, by far the best we’ve played,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “We finished the season at home the way we should. We knew we had to win tonight, for sure.”
Arkansas established its first-half cushion thanks to 16 LSU personal fouls and two technicals. The Razorbacks outscored LSU (20-10, 11-6) by nine from the line and scored 11 points off seven Tigers turnovers while giving the ball away just once in that span. LSU finished with 34 fouls, leading to a 36 for 54 night at the stripe for Arkansas.
“Statistically speaking, you wouldn’t believe it tonight, we foul the least in the SEC,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “The one thing we hadn’t done all year is foul. That’s the way it goes. We fouled jump shooters, we fouled them inside. Really hurt us.”
LSU pulled as close as seven in the final two minutes, going 5 of 6 from the field during a late stretch, before Arkansas sealed with game with free throws.
Skylar Mays led the Tigers with 28 points, Emmitt Williams scored 16 and Javonte Smart and Trendon Watford each scored 14.
NEARING ALL-TIME STATUS
Jones, a junior, scored 30-or-more points for the eighth time season. One more such game will tie him with Todd Day (1988-92) for the second most such games in Arkansas history. Two more would tie the all-time leader, Martin Terry (1971-73).
THE FINAL GAME
Whitt played his final game regular-season game at Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday. He started his college career at Arkansas before transferring to SMU after his first season, then transferred, as a graduate, back to Arkansas. He added 15 rebounds and five assists to his 26 points against LSU.
LSU had already clinched a first-round bye in next week’s SEC Tournament by virtue of a guaranteed top-four finish in league play. The Tigers could finish as high as the second seed with a win in their finale coupled with an Auburn loss.
A win over LSU was practically required to keep Arkansas in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament. The only team to ever reach the tournament while finishing two games below .500 in SEC play was Georgia in 2008, which won the SEC Tournament despite a 4-12 record in the regular season.
LSU hosts Georgia on Saturday to end its regular season.
Arkansas travels to College Station, Texas to end the regular season Saturday against Texas A&M. The Razorbacks beat Texas A&M in Fayetteville, Arkansas, 69-59, on January 4.
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