Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Big 12 regains control
Texas Tech's Matt Mooney (13) drives the ball around Arkansas' Jalen Harris (5) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)
It's a six-week run to the end of the regular season for the SEC after the conference fell 6-4 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge over the weekend.
Every home team won in the challenge with the exception of No. 20 Ole Miss, which fell 87-73 to No. 24 Iowa State to drop to 0-6 in the series.
The Big 12 won for the fourth time in the six-year history of the series, which was extended another six years on Saturday. The Big 12 improved its overall margin to 35-25 and reclaimed the yearly honor after the SEC notched its first victory with a 6-4 margin in 2018.
TCU Coach Jamie Dixon brought up the importance of the rivalry with his players, who downed Florida 55-50 in Fort Worth in the early round of games.
"We can't keep going around telling everyone this is the best conference and come up short against this league," Dixon said. "We did our part and we're very proud of it."
The Big 12 took the first three finals -- TCU over Florida, Iowa State over Ole Miss, and Baylor over Alabama 73-68 -- before Texas A&M scored one for the SEC, a 65-53 victory over Kansas State.
"Today, it's obviously the biggest game of the year, the biggest win," Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said.
Georgia dealt Texas a 98-88 loss, the Longhorns' fourth in five games, in Athens, Ga. The Bulldogs gained a measure of revenge after their football team lost to Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
The least competitive game came in Vanderbilt's 86-55 loss at Oklahoma.
No. 8 Kentucky downed No. 9 Kansas 71-63 at Rupp Arena in the marquee game of the weekend.
LSU pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in SEC history Saturday to shock Missouri 86-80 in overtime.
Missouri led 70-56 with 2:14 remaining before the Tigers embarked on a 15-1 run -- sparked by trapping 1-3-1 full-court pressure -- to push the game into overtime. LSU's Emmitt Williams made 1 of 2 free throws with two seconds left to forge the tie after a controversial rebounding foul whistled against Missouri's Ronnie Suggs.
LSU's Skylar Mays sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around his traditional three-point play in a span of 27 seconds to cut the deficit to 70-65 at the 1:41 mark.
"We were just trying to get it under five," said Mays, who finished with 24 points. "When you're up and a team starts getting close and you're thinking about it, we were trying to put them in that position. We tried to make them make tough choices."
LSU had a 0.2 percent chance to come back for the victory with 2:14 remaining.
"We cranked up our pressure, running around and scrambling," LSU Coach Will Wade said. "When you get the game going helter-skelter like that, we've got good athletes. You make people make decisions under duress and at a fast pace, sometimes that happens."
LSU freshman Ja'vonte Smart hit a pair of clutch three-pointers in overtime for LSU, which improved to 6-0 in league play.
Back to four
The SEC lost two of its ranked teams Monday, with both Auburn and Ole Miss slipping out of The Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The conference has four teams in this week's poll: No. 1 Tennessee, No. 7 Kentucky, No. 19 LSU and No. 22 Mississippi State.
Auburn dropped two road games last week, 80-77 at South Carolina and 92-84 at Mississippi State. Ole Miss lost 74-53 at rapidly improving Alabama and 87-73 at home to No. 24 Iowa State.
Tennessee forward Grant Williams, named the SEC Player of the Week on Monday, is killing it at the free-throw line. Williams' 23 of 23 showing at the line, part of a career-high 43-point performance in the Volunteers' 88-83 overtime victory at Vanderbilt on Wednesday, was the best showing from the stripe without a miss in Division I in 60 years and the second best in history.
Oklahoma State's Arlen Clark went 24 of 24 at the line against Colorado on March 7, 1959.
Williams broke the school record for most free throws in a game while equaling Allan Houston's 43-point output against LSU on Feb. 10, 1990, for the fifth most points in a game in Tennessee history.
Williams had a 14 of 14 game in a 106-87 victory over Arkansas on Jan. 15. The 6-7 junior from Charlotte, N.C., is 135 of 161 from the line this season to rank fifth in the SEC at 83.9 percent.
Williams earned SEC Player of the Week honors after averaging 31 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2 steals in victories over Vanderbilt and West Virginia.
Kentucky guard Keldon Johnson was named SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 12 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in victories over Mississippi State and Kansas. Johnson had 15 points, including 3 of 3 shooting from three-point range in the second half, and 10 rebounds for his third double-double in Kentucky's home victory over No. 9 Kansas on Saturday.
Ole Miss has lost three of its past four games, each of them by double figures, and has played only one game decided by fewer than 10 points since an 81-74 victory at Illinois State on Dec. 8.
The Rebels most recent losses -- at home against LSU and Iowa State, and on the road at Alabama -- have come by an average margin of 17 points per game. Their only victory in that span was an 84-67 decision over Arkansas.
Ole Miss' only close game in the past 51 days was an 81-77 victory at No. 14 Mississippi State on Jan. 12.
Florida has the toughest grouping of two-time league opponents this season while LSU has the easiest, based on current records.
The teams the Gators face twice in league play -- No. 1 Tennessee, No. 7 Kentucky, No. 19 LSU, Georgia and Vanderbilt -- have a combined record of 69-26 (.726). Vanderbilt's opponents are a combined 68-27, and Auburn's are 67-28.
LSU's five two-time opponents -- Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M -- are a combined 52-42 (.553). The next-easiest schedule in that category belongs to Tennessee (56-38), followed by Arkansas (57-36), Ole Miss (59-35) and Texas A&M (59-35).
Saturday's slate features a handful of top rivalry games, including two in-state clashes and three border battles.
Mississippi State and Ole Miss square off for the second time at 2:30 p.m. on the SEC Network, with the Bulldogs looking to avenge an 81-77 home loss to the Rebels on Jan. 12.
The Iron Bowl of hoops, pitting Alabama at Auburn, will tip off at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. The Tide and Tigers will play again on March 5 at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The top border battle will feature Arkansas at No. 19 LSU on ESPN2 at 5 p.m.
The day's slate of games starts at noon with South Carolina at Georgia on the SEC Network and is capped by another border clash -- Vanderbilt at Missouri -- at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
Another highlight will be a traditional rivalry, Kentucky at Florida, in the first of two meetings at 3 p.m. on ESPN.
Georgia posted the highest scoring total in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, racking up some bizarre statistics along the way.
The Bulldogs committed 26 turnovers in their 98-88 victory over Texas but shot 67 percent (32 of 48) from the field and 70.6 percent (12 of 17) from three-point range.
Georgia also made 22 of 28 (78.6 percent) free throws, while the Longhorns were 10 of 15 at the line.
Arkansas has four games to go to reach 1,000 consecutive games with a made three-point basket after extending its streak to 996 at Texas Tech on Saturday.
Vanderbilt's streak stretched to 1,050 games on Saturday. The Commodores are one of three teams to make a three-pointer in every game since the line was instituted for the 1986-87 season.
UNLV holds the record with 1,058 consecutive games with a made three-pointer, and Princeton also has made at least one in all of its games since the line was established.
Vanderbilt, a charter member of the SEC, has been the model of mediocre in league play. The Commodores will take an all-time record of 716-714 against current SEC members into today's 8 p.m. home game against Kentucky.
• Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford leads the SEC with 61.8 percent shooting (34 of 55) in SEC games.
• Missouri guard Mark Smith, the SEC's leading three-point marksman at 47.5 percent, missed Saturday's loss to LSU after spraining his ankle in the final minute of Wednesday's 72-60 loss at Arkansas.
• Kentucky freshman Tyler Herro has not missed a free throw in six league games (22 of 22).
• Florida guard and North Little Rock graduate KeVaughn Allen leads the SEC with 53.7 percent three-point shooting (22 of 41) in conference play.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM
RANK;LAST WEEK;NET;TEAM (RECORDS);COMMENT
1;1;6;Tennessee (18-1, 6-0);Road games at S. Carolina and A&M
2;2;16;LSU (16-3, 6-0);Comeback for the ages at Mizzou
3;3;7;Kentucky (16-3, 5-1);Play at Vandy, Florida this week
4;6;29; Miss. State (15-4, 3-3);Face road games at Alabama, Ole Miss
5;8;113;South Carolina (10-9, 5-1);Had won 6 of 7 before loss at Okla. St.
6;5;33;Ole Miss (14-5, 4-2);Are Rebels falling back toward expectations?
7;7;43;Alabama (12-7, 3-3);Big games vs. Auburn, Miss. State this week
8;4;27;Auburn (13-6, 2-4);Lacking interior power in recent games
9;9;37;Florida (11-8, 3-3);Looking offensively challenged these days
10;10;69;Arkansas (11-8, 2-4);Signs the Hogs are improving?
11;11;79;Missouri (10-8, 1-5);Ego-buster home loss in OT vs. LSU
12;12;88;Georgia (10-9, 1-5);Showed up for "Challenge" vs. Texas
13;13;108; Texas A&M (8-10, 1-5);Shooting SEC worst .293 from 3-point range
14;14;93;Vanderbilt (9-10, 0-6);Minus-5.7 rebound margin in SEC play
The NCAA has instituted a new rating system, the NET Rankings, which has taken the place of the Ratings Percentage Index. An acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool, the NET rankings factor in game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses.
Game of the week
Tennessee at South Carolina, 5:30 p.m., today (SEC Network)
The Volunteers were shaky in the first defense of their No. 1 ranking, squeaking out a victory at Vanderbilt. South Carolina, an early surprise team in league play, can solidify its contender status and bounce back from a road loss at Oklahoma State with a home win over the Vols.
"I've never been a part of anything like that." -- LSU Coach Will Wade on the Tigers' late rally to topple Missouri in OT
"It's a hard, hard pill to swallow, and hopefully it's one we can learn from and never have to witness again. You never assume the game is over until it's over." -- Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin after his team blew a 70-56 lead with 2:14 left in a loss to LSU
"There's pressure, and you're going to get everyone's best shot." -- Tennessee forward Grant Williams regarding the Vols' No. 1 ranking
By the numbers
Meetings between ranked Auburn and Mississippi State teams after the Bulldogs won 92-84 on Saturday
Seasons added on to the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, announced on Saturday
Consecutive points scored by LSU's Skylar Mays during the Tigers' 15-1 run to close regulation at Missouri
Sports on 01/29/2019
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.