FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -Vanderbilt’s Jermaine Beal made two free throws to pull his team within one – when suddenly, the Arkansas crowd roared.
Forward Ross Neltner called a timeout the 18th-ranked Commodores didn’t have with 7.3 seconds remaining Saturday, and Vandy was assessed a technical foul. The mistake helped Arkansas hold on for a 78-73 victory.
“Ross Neltner’s not the first guy to do that. He probably won’t be the last,” Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey said. “They certainly wouldn’t have 24 wins or have been in a position tonight to win the basketball game if it wasn’t for that young man.”
Vanderbilt (24-5, 9-5 Southeastern Conference) had won seven straight, including Tuesday night’s victory over No. 1 Tennessee.
Shan Foster scored 22 points to become Vandy’s career scoring leader. Foster made six 3-pointers and helped keep his team in the game down the stretch. With Arkansas up 69-65, Foster made a high-arching 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:39 remaining. He later made a contested 3 from the left wing to pull his team within one at 72-71.
Sonny Weems made two free throws with 10.8 seconds remaining to make it 74-71, and Arkansas decided to foul rather than let Foster try another 3-pointer.
“He makes you think you should start fouling with 25 seconds. The two he hit were just spectacular plays,” Pelphrey said. “The one was so far down in the corner – he was in the cheerleaders down there.”
Beal’s free throws made it 74-73, but Arkansas caught a break when Neltner called time. Neltner said coach Kevin Stallings usually saves timeouts for the end – but that players had been told they had none remaining this time.
“They had reminded us hundreds of times,” said Neltner, a senior. “I just forgot.”
Weems made both free throws after the technical, then added two more on the ensuing possession. He finished with 20 points.
Arkansas had lost four of five and desperately needed a big win to boost its NCAA tournament resume. The Razorbacks (19-9, 8-6) led by 12 points early, but the Commodores scored the last eight points of the first half to trail 40-36.
Foster made two 3s early in the second half to give Vandy a 48-47 lead, and it was close the rest of the way.
Arkansas’ Patrick Beverley, who had been in a horrendous shooting slump, scored 17 points and went 5-of-7 from 3-point range.
“We understand what kind of place we’re in and what it’s going to take to make it to the NCAA tournament,” Beverley said. “It was very fun playing today. Give our fans a lot of credit. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have won the basketball game.”
The Razorbacks have struggled on the road, but they are still tough to beat at Bud Walton Arena, where they’ve defeated Mississippi State, Florida and now Vanderbilt this season.
“They’ve got a lot of talent,” Stallings said. “I think if you lined up their talent and lined up our talent, I’m not so sure that most coaches wouldn’t take their talent.”
A.J. Ogilvy scored 20 points for the Commodores. Neltner finished with 14 points, six rebounds and five turnovers.
The Razorbacks led 70-68 after point guard Gary Ervin made a free throw with 1:27 remaining. Arkansas was then on defense for a full minute as Vandy missed several attempts to tie it. Ervin finally came away with the ball for Arkansas and was fouled with 25 seconds remaining.
“All I can do is sit there and applaud my team,” Stallings said. “They kept fighting. Sometimes you can’t get the ball in the basket.”
Ervin made both free throws to make it 72-68, but Foster’s final 3-pointer of the game set up the wild finish.
Foster now has 1,895 points. He passed Matt Freije on the school’s career list.
Pelphrey tied an Arkansas record for most wins by a first-year coach. The finish was somewhat reminiscent of the Razorbacks’ win over Syracuse in the second round of the 1995 NCAA tournament. Arkansas won that game in overtime after Syracuse called a timeout it didn’t have.
Arkansas plays at Ole Miss on Tuesday in an 8 p.m. tilt televised by ESPN.