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Hogs bested a stacked deck against Tigers

By: Wally Hall
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe shoots a 3-pointer during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against LSU on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Arkansas won 90-89. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe shoots a 3-pointer during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against LSU on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Arkansas won 90-89. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

LSU had everything going for it Saturday when it hosted the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

The game was in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, and the Tigers were riding a 10-game winning streak and an 18-game winning streak at home. They were undefeated in SEC play and solid enough in the NCAA's NET rankings to be considered a No. 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

They were favored by more than eight points and coming off a relatively easy 72-57 victory at Texas A&M.

But someone forgot to tell the Razorbacks they couldn't win. Afterall, they lost at home to the Tigers 94-88 in overtime.

Maybe it was the gumbo, or possibly the red beans and rice. Whatever the cause, the Razorbacks put together their best 40 minutes of the season and are in a great position with 10 games left.

The Hogs are 13-8 overall and 4-4 in SEC play with five home games (Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Alabama) and five road games (South Carolina, Missouri, Auburn, Kentucky and Vanderbilt).

They should be on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble if they protect their home court, and beat Missouri and Vanderbilt on the road. One win in the SEC Tournament should then punch a ticket to March Madness. Currently, their NET ranking is 57, and it will move up with more wins.

It sounds a little optimistic for a team that prior to Saturday had lost five of seven games, but the performance against the Tigers does not have to be one and done.

The Razorbacks played their best game of the season because of unselfish enthusiasm on both ends of the court.

A key statistic was that the Razorbacks had 18 assists. That's sharing the ball.

They also did two other things on offense that always will pay dividends. The Razorbacks went inside to Daniel Gafford, and when he wasn't open, they took smart shots -- sometimes passing two or three extra times to get the ball to the open guy.

They shot 58 percent from the floor and 54 percent on three-pointers.

On the defensive end, they took the momentum by forcing the Tigers out of their comfort zone, which led to them firing up 24 three-pointers with only five makes.

Doubters are quick to point out the Hogs had a 17-point lead on Isaiah Joe's three with 10:33 to play, but within six minutes LSU had it down to a one-possession game and took an 89-88 lead with 2:02 to play.

That was when Daniel Gafford joined Jalen Harris and Gabe Osabuohien on the bench with five fouls.

It wasn't so much that the Razorbacks had lost the momentum, but they were losing key players down the stretch. Arkansas was called for 29 fouls, and the Tigers made 32 of 38 free throws. The Hogs were fouled 18 times and made 7 of 11 free throws.

In the final two minutes, LSU couldn't score against Arkansas' defense, and Mason Jones hit a jumper with 23 seconds to play to regain the lead. The Tigers had three shots for the win, came up short, and the Razorbacks had their most significant win of the season.

Joe didn't play or shoot like a freshman, scoring 18 and hitting 4 of 8 threes. Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, another freshman, had 16 points and made 4 of 6 threes. Embery-Simpson had 13 of his points in the first half.

Freshmen Desi Sills and Reggie Chaney also played, and for the first time this season everyone looked like veterans.

If the Razorbacks are hitting from the outside, the middle opens for Gafford, who had 23 points.

On Saturday, the Razorbacks were unselfish, enthusiastic and intense on both ends of the court.

Sports on 02/05/2019

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