Like It Is

Razorbacks made the most of their time to advance

Arkansas guard Ricky Council (1) dunks during an SEC Tournament game against Auburn on Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — They took it to heart.

The motto of March Madness is survive and advance, and that’s exactly what the Arkansas Razorbacks did in a 76-73 win over Auburn in the SEC Tournament on Thursday night.

The Hogs looked in control and started to resemble a team that could win this tournament and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament that starts next week.

They led 54-39 with 13:54 to play when Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl had seen enough.

He called a timeout.

The Tigers, who are projected as a No. 8-9 seed for the NCAAs, made more effort on the boards and started attacking on defense. They turned Razorback mistakes into points, and after trailing for more than 34 minutes, took a 73-72 lead on an Allen Flanigan’s lay-up with 43 seconds to play.

Flanigan played for his grandfather Al at Little Rock Parkview but wasn’t seriously recruited by Arkansas because everyone knew he was going to play for his father Wes at Auburn.

The game ended on a Jacksonville, Ark., note.

Nick Smith Jr., whose hometown is Jacksonville, blew by a defender and hit a baseline jumper with 20 seconds to play to put the Hogs back on top 74-73, but the play of the game was about to send the Tigers home.

Davonte “Devo” Davis, a junior from Jacksonville picked off a pass, drew a foul and went to the line for a one-and-one opportunity, his first free throws of the night. He made them both and Auburn had 12 seconds to try and tie it on a three.

The Tigers couldn’t get anyone open, and with 3.5 seconds left Pearl called another timeout and told his team exactly what to do. They executed it perfectly except for the making the shot.

Wendell Green got a good look and let it fly just before the buzzer sounded, but the ball bounced high and long off the front of the rim and the Razorbacks had avenged a 72-59 loss to the Tigers on Jan. 7.

The Hogs were outscored 34-22 after Pearl’s first timeout, but they never quit. Pearl and Eric Musselman were coaching every bounce, every shot and every defensive move.

The Razorbacks dominated the boards, outrebounding the Tigers 37-19, but what allowed Auburn to get back in it was turnovers.

Arkansas committed 11 second-half turnovers that were converted into 15 points in the final 20 minutes, yet, the Hogs did seem to come up with the vast majority of loose balls. They got 13 offensive rebounds that they turned into 18 points.

Anthony Black led the attack with 19 points, showing a quickness the Tigers couldn’t equal.

Smith had 14 and Makhi Mitchell showed more athleticism than he has all season with two spin moves for field goals and bulling in for lay-ups to finish with 12 points.

Mitchell has been starting lately, but he came off the bench as did Jordan Walsh who had 11 points.

At 6-4 Davis is the shortest starter for the Hogs, but he had 10 rebounds and one steal, the turning point in the game.

Watching it all from press row was Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams.

The Hogs face the Aggies at 6 tonight, and there is no doubt A&M has something to prove to everyone.

Despite beating Alabama in the regular-season finale, the Aggies dropped a place in the NCAA NET rankings to No. 24, and the experts have them penciled in as a No. 5 to No. 7 seed despite a 23-8 record.

Arkansas and A&M split regular-season games with each team winning at home, and of course this one is here in Bridgestone Arena, a neutral site. Both teams will literally share a common thinking: Survive and advance.