FAYETTEVILLE – JD Notae’s shooting game to forget ended with shots he and his fellow Arkansas Razorbacks will always remember.
For while shooting just 3 of 12 from the field after being named National Player of the Year for scoring 22 points and 30 points the previous two games leading Arkansas over Florida and Kentucky, Notae’s two free throws with eight seconds left eked the then down, 76-75 Razorbacks to a 77-76 SEC triumph over LSU in Wednesday night’s Walton Arena season-finale.
18th-ranked Arkansas dodged one last bullet defending Xavier Pinson’s last LSU shot in the final second.
Immediately yet another Walton Arena packed house celebrated their Eric Musselman coached Razorbacks winning the 14th of their last 15 games. Arkansas advances to 24-6 overall and remains in a second-place SEC tie at 13-4 with Tennessee and Kentucky going into Saturday’s SEC season finale at Tennessee in Knoxville leading into next week’s SEC Tournament in Tampa, Fla.
Coach Will Wade’s LSU Tigers, swept home and home by the Hogs with Arkansas prevailing 65-58 in Baton Rouge, La. back on Jan. 15 when LSU ranked 12th nationally, fall to 20-10 overall/ 8-9 in the SEC going into their Saturday regular season finale hosting Alabama.
The Tigers appeared ripe for revenge Wednesday leading 71-67 with 2:27 left and Arkansas star center Jaylin Williams, 19 points and 10 rebounds fouled out at 4:27, and Notae struggling.
Obviously Arkansas denied them.
“I just think it’s a team right now that has belief, finds a way, is able to adjust,” Musselman said.
Stanley Umude, the grad transfer in his Walton Arena farewell tallying a team leading 23 points, brought Arkansas to down just, 71-70 with his third 3-pointer of the game at 2:08.
Again LSU pulled away. Tari Eason, scoring a game leading 24, tallied a field goal-and-one 3-point play for LSU’s 74-70 lead at 1:47 but fouled out 12 seconds later as Razorbacks guard Au’Diese Toney, 18 points, rebounded a Notae miss.
Toney sunk them both then tied it 74-74 off a Notae feed at 1:13.
Pinson, the LSU point guard benched by injury when Arkansas prevailed in Baton Rouge, gave LSU its last lead, 76-74 with 52 seconds left.
Reserve forward Kamani Johnson, subbing for the fouled out Williams, got fouled for an automatic two shots and Arkansas keep the ball on Mwani Wilkinson fouling on what was ruled a hook and hold with 46 seconds left.
Johnson made 1 of 2.
Brandon Murray stole it from Notae after the Johnson free throw but Pinson and Eric Gaines both missed LSU shots.
Notae rebounded the Gaines miss with 12 seconds left and was fouled at :08.
Jaylin Williams watched helplessly fouled out while his off form teammate readied for the free throws.
The only helplessness Williams apparently felt was being unable to defend after Notate, 12 points even on an off night, sunk the free throws the Hogs knew he would sink.
“He stepped up to the line and I don’t think anybody on our team thought he was going to even get close to missing one of them,” Williams said. “He can miss 25 shots in a row and he’s still gonna shoot that 26th shot with the most confidence in the building. We all believe in JD just as much as he believes in himself.”
Then it came down to defending Pinson, a factor all night with 12 points and five assists, but needing 21 shots to score his dozen.
“That last play I thought we did a great job of going vertical,” Musselman said. “Keeping Pinson in front of us. Especially late game to force him left, not let him go to his strong hand, not to foul him. That’s hard too. Not to foul a guy who’s got such a quick first step. I thought we did a really good job of going vertical as well.”
Toney did much of the defense on Pinson, Musselman said.
The Hogs needed all they could muster with LSU dominating the rebounding, 43-34 helping Eason, 24 points, and Darius Days, 19 points, boost their scoring on stickbacks.
“We got outrebounded crazy tonight but we still came up with the W,” Umude said. “That’s all that matters.”
Eason sank 10 for 10 of LSU’s 18 of 19 field free throws.
Though outrebounded, Arkansas got fouled more often sinking 24 of 28 free throws, especially after going to the hole more often in the second half after taking too many threes in the 35-35 first half to suit Musselman.
Musselman attributed LSU’s frequent fouling to trying to steal the game.
“”I think any time you play a high-steal team, it’s probably going to be a high-foul team,” Musselman said. “They’re one of the best steal teams in the country. They lunge at the ball. They slap at the ball. They’re really aggressive, and I say that in a complimentary way.”
Of course with Williams fouled out and Notae off shooting form it can be said the Hogs stole one thanks to grad transfers Toney and of course Umude.
“Obviously Stan became a focal point offensively for us,” Musselman said.
Though Toney’s a grad transfer and Notae is a senior, both have the 20202-21 covid senior option of returning to the UA next season if they don’t turn pro.
For Umude off his previous career at the University of South Dakota, this one year at Arkansas is all he’s got with his last game at Walton played with the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament forthcoming.
“I didn’t want to have my last memory of Bud Walton be a loss,” Umude said. “I’m happy that my teammates were able to have this experience with me. It’s been a crazy ride and we’ve got a long way to go still.”