By: Greg Dailey
COLUMBIA – It had all the makings of a rivalry game. Despite neither team being near the top of the SEC, Mizzou and Arkansas put on a show Thursday evening at Mizzou Arena, with the Tigers prevailing 86-85.
Heading into the game, the Missouri Tigers were in dire need of a victory. After three hard-fought losses against Kentucky, Florida and Ole Miss, Mizzou faced former head coach Mike Anderson and his Razorbacks. Arkansas had just pulled off a rare road win.
Back and forth, swapping leads and a game of little defense ironically came down to a stand by the Mizzou defense on the Razorbacks’ final possession.
The game fittingly ended with Jabari Brown clutching the ball while sprawled out on the floor. The junior from California had just knocked down a tough floater in the lane moments before to give Missouri a one-point lead.
Jordan Clarkson led the Tigers with 27, while Brown backed him up with 25. Missouri also out-rebounded the Razorbacks 40-34.
In a contest that lasted nearly two and a half hours, both squads had no choice but to win the game from the free throw line. While Arkansas knocked down more than 78 percent of their attempts (29-37), the Tigers were that much better, shooting a remarkable 34-38 (89.5%) from the charity stripe.
Mizzou boasted its largest home crowd of the season, an announced attendance of 12,362.
“I thought the crowd was outstanding,” said Missouri head coach Frank Haith. “They really helped our team.”
The Tiger faithful saw a few Mizzou players break out of slumps as well. Earnest Ross notched a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards. Tony Criswell played quality defense, as did Ryan Rosburg. Wes Clark hit a big three-pointer with the shotclock winding down, and gave Jordan Clarkson a breather against Mike Anderson’s “Fastest Forty Minutes.”
While the game featured eight players who scored in double figures, it came down to key defensive possessions. Trailing by one, Missouri forced an Arkansas turnover. Then after Jabari Brown’s go-ahead bucket, Rosburg stood his ground down low and Arkansas could not get an easy look.
“It was a game where we needed to shore up some things on the defensive end,” Haith said.
Defense will be paramount for Haith’s squad when Tennessee visit Mizzou Arena Saturday afternoon. The Volunteers bring a talented guard in Jordan McRae and a solid post presence with Jarnell Stokes.
The budding rivalry against Arkansas is off and running, and the Tigers finish tonight’s matchup with a sweep over the border rivals in the 2013-2014 basketball season.