FAYETTEVILLE – Even with mainstay guard Isaiah Joe indefinitely basketball absent because of Tuesday’s arthroscopic right knee surgery and mainstay guard Jimmy Whitt 0 for 7 scoreless, the Arkansas Razorbacks behind Mason Jones’ 40 points nearly upset the nationally No. 10 Auburn Tigers Tuesday night before 17,196 at Walton Arena.
But the Razorbacks couldn’t hit consistently hit the free throws (16 of 26 to Auburn’s 21 of 30) they needed playing the clock with an 11-point lead with 6:00 left in regulation. They had to come back from down two to tie it 69-69 ending in regulation and lost, 79-76 in overtime.
A Jalen Harris 3-point shot off a Jones pass rimmed out as Arkansas in vain tried to break a 69-69 tie at the regulation buzzer.
Jones’ bid to tie it 79-79 to extend a double overtime with a trey missed in the overtime’s final second after his steal and bucket underneath brought Arkansas to down 78-76 with nine seconds left in overtime and Auburn’s Samkr Doughty opening the door missing hitting just 1 of 2 free throws upon fouled immediately after Jones scored.
The loss dropped coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks to 16-6, 4-5 in the SEC going into Saturday’s SEC game at Missouri
while coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers improved to 20-2, 7-2 in the SEC.
Jones, scoring 30 and 37 points his previous two games, was superb other than missing five of 16 free throws. For those misses he was harder on himself than anyone could fathom given his 40 points, including 5 or 12 treys, five assists, two steals performance.
“I take full blame for this game,” Jones said. “I missed five free throws. I was 11 for 16. Good players don’t miss free throws and I missed five of them. You put five points on our side and we win this game. That’s on me.”
Yeah but following 30 and 37 point games in the SEC home loss to South Carolina and SEC win at Alabama with 40 points on the nation’s No. 10 team …
“Good players don’t miss five free throws at the crib,” Jones said. “I played good but it wasn’t good enough. So I don’t really want to talk about my stats because we lost.”
Pearl certainly wanted to talk about Jones’ game in glowing terms.
“How good is Mason Jones?” Pearl asked enthusiastically. “Wow, what a story! He is just a great lesson for young people. It’s not where you start, (in junior college because he was overweight as a high school senior) it’s where you finish. He’s as good as there is in the league. Obviously Arkansas just ran out of bodies without Isaiah Joe. So we were just fortunate.”
Jones was asked about playing without Joe, averaging 18.2 points until his scoring dipped as his knee condition worsened to the point of Tuesday’s surgery, and Whitt 0 for 7 scoreless after scoring 26 on Alabama.
“It was tough,” Jones said. “Two of the top 10 scorers in the conference. Isaiah being out is very tough and Jimmy just – everybody has these off nights. Jimmy had seven rebounds, so he contributed to the game, but he was just off tonight. Some games are like that. I had a 1-point game (earlier this season). Everybody has that game. And Isaiah being Isaiah, that’s a 17-, 18-, 20-, even a 30-point scorer, so having Zay out there would help me out. But we’re going to keep battling until Zay gets back.”
In key supporting roles, Desi Sills scored 14 points for Arkansas and Adrio Bailey scored 11 with seven boards.
Certainly his Hogs battled, Musselman said.
“I thought the effort was phenomenal,” Musselman said “ I’ve been around a lot of teams. I haven’t been around too many teams that battle any harder than these guys. And we had a player score 40 points.”
But still it was a loss so close to being won.
“There are a lot of little things,” Musselman said, “ I thought we played hard and and they played hard. Unfortunately we lost a basketball game again.”
Auburn played well when it had to which the Tigers have done throughout the season including coming back from down 19 to win in SEC overtime at Ole Miss.
Doughty led Auburn Tuesday with 23 points. J’Von McCormick, hitting the wide open three to put Auburn up,.69-68 with 1:42 left in regulation before Jones tied it with one of two free throws, scored 16 for the Tigers while Isaac Okoro scored 14 with Anfernee McLemore double-doubling with 11 points and 10 boards and Daniel Purifoy scoring 10.
“We missed some shots down the stretch,” Jones said. “And we eventually went to overtime and they made more shots than us at the end of the game. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Good job Auburn.”
It marked Arkansas’ third consecutive loss at Walton starting 73-66 to Kentucky, then No. 10, 79-77 to South Carolina, a victor over Kentucky, and now No. 10 Auburn coming off beating Kentucky.
“I don’t care how many in a row it is,” Musselman said. “We lost to two really good teams and we did not play very well against South Carolina and we lost by two points. I told the team, we just got get ready for Missouri.”
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action