The highest-scoring teams in the Southeastern Conference met in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Saturday night, but neither managed to reach its season average.
Still, LSU’s game with Arkansas was anything but a dull one for a paid crowd of 13,610 in the PMAC.
The score was tied nine times in the second half and 11 in all before LSU forward Craig Victor collected an airball off the hands of teammate Antonio Blakeney and softly laid the ball in the basket with 4.2 seconds to play to give his team a thrilling 76-74 win.
The basket was the final one of the evening for Victor, who scored 12 points after halftime, to help the Tigers overcome a 40-36 halftime deficit and notch their second win in four nights when trailing at the break.
The offensive rebound couldn’t have come at a better time for Victor, who boxed out Arkansas’ 6-foot-10 forward Moses Kingsley and went back up strong after Blakeney missed the mark from the right wing.
“I was pretty much trying to get in position to get an offensive rebound,” Victor said. “The ball fell in my lap, and I was able to make (the shot).”
Arkansas still had a chance after taking a timeout, but guard Anton Beard’s long 3-pointer from the right wing missed everything.
That LSU even had a chance to win was remarkable after Arkansas had possession with 34 seconds remaining.
Beard misfired on a free throw and failed to complete a three-point play to leave the score tied at 74 when LSU’s Ben Simmons had the ball go off his hand while trying to rebound the miss.
Kingsley slapped at Simmons’ hand, knocking the ball out of bounds with one official signaling LSU possession. But following a lengthy video review, the ball was awarded to Arkansas.
But Simmons stole the inbound pass from Anthlon Bell, who had a game-high 19 points, and the Tigers again had an opportunity to win it.
They quickly moved the ball down the floor, and Blakeney, one of four players in double figures for LSU, hoisted a heavily contested 3-point shot that missed everything.
But Victor, who came up big throughout the second half, cleaned it up for his 16th point of the night to go with 12 rebounds — which matched his career high.
LSU (11-6, 4-1) also got 16 points and 18 rebounds from Simmons, while guard Josh Gray had 15 points and three assists in one of the most complete performances of his LSU career. Blakeney added 10 points.
“(Arkansas) likes to play fast and press, and I’m a fast guard,” Gray said. “I like to penetrate the lane and kick it out to try and make my team better. I just had a great night.”
Gray also did a solid job on defense with fellow guards Jalyn Patterson, Keith Hornsby and Tim Quarterman.
They combined to hold Arkansas’ top four guards — Bell, Dusty Hannahs, Jabril Durham and Beard — to 17 field goals in 37 attempts, including 7-of-17 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Arkansas (9-8, 3-2) came into the game averaging 84.4 points, while LSU was next at 83.2. No other SEC team was averaging 80 points going into Saturday’s play.
“They have an excellent team with some great shooters across the board,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “They have two or three guys averaging better than 40 percent from the 3-point line, which is huge. So they’re a very confident (shooting) group.”
Arkansas and LSU were both hitting better than 47.0 percent from the field overall, but the Razorbacks were held to 45.5 percent while the Tigers were just a shade under their season average at 46.6 for the night.
“Our guys played well from the beginning in the first half,” Jones said of his team’s defensive effort. “Arkansas made some shots in the first half and wound up with a four-point lead, but our guys came out with more of the same in the second half and got some stops. That’s what it took.”
Kingsley, who came into the game averaging 17.3 points and 9.5 rebounds, was held to 11 points and eight rebounds with Victor shadowing him most of the night.
In addition to Bell’s 19 points, Beard added 11 points off the bench.
While it wasn’t LSU’s best performance of the season, it was good enough.
“I felt like we could have played better as a team,” Victor said. “We were fortunate that we were able to pull off the win.”