By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas missed all eight of its first-half 3-point shots but only trailed 33-31 at intermission in Saturday’s SEC game vs. the LSU Tigers at their Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La.With JD Notae hitting two and Devo Davis, Stanley Umude and Jaylin Williams one each, the underdog Razorbacks hit 5 of 9 second-half treys overcoming a 56-48 deficit with 9:01 left and stunning, 65-58 the nationally 12th-ranked Tigers. Now 15-2 overall but at 3-2 in the SEC, Coach Will Wade’s Tigers are just one game ahead of Arkansas.
The Razorbacks off beating the Missouri Tigers and LSU Tigers take 12-5 and 2-3 overall and SEC records into hosting South Carolina in Tuesday’s 6 p.m. SEC Network televised SEC game at Walton Arena.
Of Arkansas’ big threes, none figured bigger than the one from their literally biggest shooter. Jaylin Williams, the 6-10, 240 center, was spotted alone behind the 3-point by senior guard Notae, swarmed as the 19-points game-leading scorer. Williams’ wide open three, at 1:12 snapped a 58-58 tie. LSU never scored again.
Williams’ trey, only his fourth this season, fulfilled the prophesy of Keith Smart, the Arkansas assistant coach piloting the Hogs in his hometown of Baton Rouge while Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman recuperates in Fayetteville from major shoulder surgery performed last Thursday.
“Coming out of the timeout, (assistant) Coach Gus (Argenal) and Coach Smart told me, ‘You are going to get a big shot,” Williams said. “You are going to be open on the 3-point line, Just be confident and take the shot. You work on your shot. Take that shot if it’s open and that’s what I did.”
Smart postgame explained his prophesy.
“This is what I tried to share with the guys,” Smart said. “Any time you get in trouble, find Jaylin. Because Jaylin is your bailout guy. He’s going to move the ball somewhere (second on the team in assists only to point guard Devo Davis) or he’s going to make a play. I said to him at some point he was going to be open because he’s handling the ball up top on he floor so much. And when that ball came to him he was able to make that big shot.”
Williams, an 11 points/13 rebounds double-double plus three steals and a blocked shot, then took a big charge, his fourth of the day. It fouled out LSU’s Brandon Murray with 59 seconds left. The Hogs ran 26 seconds off the clock before turning it over.
Au’Diese Toney stole it back for Arkansas and got it to Notae fouled at 22 seconds. Notae, making his previous three free throws, missed the front end of the one and one, but Arkansas forward Stanley Umude rebounded, putting put it back in and putting the game out of reach.“You know we get on Stanley all the time about not rebounding,” Smart said. “I told him, ‘You are going to get a big rebound somewhere, and Stanley was able to get that big rebound and put that ball back in.”
Toney, 12 points, hit two more free throws for the final points.
From down 56-48 the Hogs finished with a 17-2 flourish.
“For sure,” Williams said if he sensed the Tigers reeling as the Hogs stormed back. “We got defensive stops and we turned it into offense. JD did a great job on offense. He shot really good.”
Notae had to do it delicately. He amassed his fourth foul unsuccessfully trying to take a charge with 10:10 left as Arkansas dropped from down 50-48 to down 56-48 with Notae benched.
So at 9:01 Smart sent Notae back in one just one foul away from disqualification with guards Davis and Chris Lykes also foul troubled.
Notae never fouled again, and LSU never scored again other than Alex Fudge’s thunder dunk tying it 58-58 at 2:16.
Fudge’s slam had the crowd was raring to make the place they call “The Deaf Dome” deafening until Jaylin Williams’ big three stunned them into silence.
Almost as silent as LSU forward Darius Days. LSU’s leading scorer going into the game but feast or famine on the Hogs last year feasting with 18 points and 13 boards when the Tigers trounced last season’s Hogs in Baton Rouge but scoreless when last season’s Elite Eight Hogs avenged in Fayetteville, Days scored but three points shooting 1 for 8.
“We had to make sure that when he got the ball that everybody’s eyes were on him,” Smart said. “He’s such a gifted athlete and player with a really nice touch from three. If he got going, this building is rocking. We had to make sure he couldn’t get going from deep.”
Taking LSU’s stars like Days out of their game was paramount, Smart said.
Eric Gaines, the backup point guard starting for injured via transferred from Missouri point guard Xavier Pinson, led LSU with 14 points.
Williams, the lone Hog media available, and Smart both talked of Musselman’s presence even with the coach in Fayetteville.
“We brought Coach Musselman into the locker room with us via FaceTime so he could celebrate this moment with us,” said Smart, a longtime NBA coach wanting to coach college ball and learn more from Musselman for whom he played for in the minor leagues and assisted when Musselman head coached Golden State.“Kudos to Coach Musselman. I’m not in this environment if he didn’t offer me the opportunity to come here and grow as a college coach.”
Williams remarked, “Everything that we did, Coach Muss taught us. He gave us a plan and we just executed it and Coach Smart did a great job at coaching and stepping up in his role and I felt we did good as a team.”
Williams said Smart set a pregame theme of “we have everything to gain and nothing to lose,” and “was calm the whole game” even as LSU sprinted to a 9-2 lead and took that 8-point second-half lead after Arkansas forged ahead.
“He never got rattled,” Williams said. “When we saw him not rattled and with confidence in us we look at each other and have that confidence, too.”