FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Julysess Nobles and the Razorbacks figured it couldn't get any worse Wednesday night.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Julysess Nobles and the Razorbacks figured it couldn’t get any worse Wednesday night.
After all, Arkansas scored 19 points in the first half. They made four field goals and had nine turnovers. So when they got to the locker room, Nobles and his teammates tried to simply shrug off the struggles.
“We just said, ‘Keep shooting,’” he said.
The Razorbacks didn’t turn in a stellar second half by any means, but found just enough offensive to beat the Tigers 56-53 in front of an announced crowd of 11,350 in Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas (15-5, 3-2 in Southeastern Conference) recovered from an awful first half, leaned on its defense, and survived an ugly performance to improve to 15-0 in Bud Walton Arena this season.
BJ Young led the Razorbacks with 11 points, while Nobles and Ky Madden added 10 apiece in the win. The 56 points was the fewest Arkansas has scored this season, but coach Mike Anderson said it didn’t matter.
“It wasn’t a thing of beauty,” Anderson said. “There are all kinds of ways to win. We won one in a different kind of fashion.”
The first half performance should go down as one of the ugliest 20 minutes of basketball in the arena’s history, though.
Arkansas and Auburn (12-8, 2-3 in SEC) combined to shoot 25.4 percent from the field, turned the ball over 24 times (Auburn 15, Arkansas 9) and committed 19 fouls (Auburn 10, Arkansas 9) in a half the featured more fouls than field goals (19 to 13). The Razorbacks struggled the most, following their dazzling 11-for-11 start in the Michigan win, experiencing what Anderson called “the Michigan hangover” Wednesday.
Arkansas opened the game 0-for-8 from the field and were scoreless through five minutes. The Hogs eventually got on the board, but it didn’t get much better throughout the half. The Razorbacks made 4 of 27 shots (14.8 percent) to open the game.
“You shoot 14 percent you figure you’re really, really struggling and we were,” Anderson said. “But the saving grace was your defense. It allows you to hang around until your offense gets it back in gear.”
Fortunately for Arkansas, Auburn wasn’t much better. The Tigers made 9 of 24 shots in the first half and struggled with Arkansas’ pressure in the backcourt. Auburn took a 22-19 lead to the locker room, but the Razorbacks didn’t lose confidence.
“We focused on the defensive end because we couldn’t throw it in the ocean,” Young said. “We didn’t lose our head.”
Anderson said he didn’t say much in the locker room, turning things over to the players to let them “hash things out.”
“Sometimes they’ve got to take some ownership,” Anderson said. “They saw how they played. They know what’s at stake. So the sense of urgency has to come from them.”
The game finally began to open up in the second half, with each team knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minutes.
Auburn managed to build a 37-30 lead, getting second-chance points off missed shots around the basket. But Arkansas clawed back to tie the game at 37-37, when Madden made a 3-pointer with 11:03 left.
“Ky was a great all-around player for us,” Young said of Madden, who finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. “He did everything - rebounding, passing, scoring. He helped us a lot and picked up the slack.”
So did guard Rickey Scott, who finally gave the Razorbacks the lead with an eight-point spurt a few minutes later. He started the run with a 3-pointer, which was just his fifth in 43 attempts this season. Then a 3-point play gave Arkansas a 47-43 lead.
But the Razorbacks could never get comfortable, struggling to put Auburn away.
Arkansas held a five-point lead in the final minute and had a chance to wrap the win at the free-throw line. Once again, the Razorbacks missed the front end of two one-and-one attempts to keep Auburn alive.
The Tigers had the ball with seven seconds remaining and a chance to tie the game. But forward Kenny Gabriel’s last-second 3-pointer bounced off the rim to give the Hogs their second straight win on a missed shot.
Gabriel led the Tigers with 13 points in the loss, while Frankie Sullivan and Chris Denson finished with 10 apiece. Auburn finished shooting 40.4 percent (21 of 52) from the field in the game, but committed 21 turnovers that led to 21 Arkansas points.
“It’s big for our team,” Young said of the rugged win against Auburn. “But we’ve got to do a better job of making our free throws to close out these games a little easier.”