MAUI, Hawaii – Dontell Jefferson hit a pull-up jumper in the lane with 18 seconds left, and Jefferson and Steven Hill blocked shots in the final two seconds as Arkansas rallied for a 65-64 victory over Kansas Tuesday on the second day of the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
The win is one of the biggest in Stan Heath’s four years as head coach, and the Razorbacks have a chance for another big victory on Wednesday when they close the tournament with a 1 p.m. game against No. 24 Maryland.
Arkansas was 3-4 in one-possession games last year, but Jefferson, who scored a career-high 13, gave the Razorbacks (2-1) an early 1-0 mark in close games this year.
The game featured 20 lead changes and eight ties, but Jefferson, who was five-of-six from the floor, hit the pull-up game-winner just beyond the free throw line with 18 seconds to go on a pass from Ronnie Brewer. Each team took a timeout and Kansas (1-2) swung the ball around to 5-11 Jeff Hawkins who appeared to be alone in the right corner. The 6-5 Jefferson stepped out and blocked the three-point attempt out of bounds with two seconds remaining. Russell Robinson attempted a three from the right wing with one second to go, but the 7-0 Hill came out of the lane and blocked the shot straight up in the air as the horn sounded.
“This is a big win for our team and the program,” head coach Stan Heath said. “We had a lot of trouble last year closing out close games.”
Arkansas trailed by seven midway through the first half, 15-8, but a three by Jefferson capped a 7-0 run to tie the game with 9:25 remaining.
The Jayhawks, who lost to Arizona in Monday’s first round, moved in front by six on a three by Brandon Rush at 6:02. Arkansas closed within 28-27 on a jumper by Darian Townes, but a three by Mario Chalmers gave KU a 31-27 lead at the half.
Brewer struggled in the first half, going two-of-eight from the floor and one-of-three at the line, but was hot early in the second half. He scored on a driving layup and hit a three to put UA up 32-31, with 18:42 to go – the Hogs’ first lead since 6-4. From there, the teams traded leads 14 times the rest of the way.
A Chalmers three gave Kansas a 45-41 advantage, but Eric Ferguson answered with a three for the Razorbacks.
Charles Thomas gave UA a 48-47 lead on a layup with 9:48 remaining, and a three-point play by Jefferson, who dunked after a steal and made a free throw after getting fouled, pushed the margin to 51-47 at 9:12.
A jumper by Townes, who was four-of-eight from the floor and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, gave the Hogs a 55-49 lead and momentum with 5:41 left.
Kansas came back and took a 60-59 lead on a trey by Rush, who led the Jayhawks with 20 points on eight-of-10 shooting.
Brewer made four free throws over the next 30 seconds to put Arkansas back on top, 63-62, at 1:48, but a dunk by C.J. Giles with 31 seconds left gave Kansas a 64-63 lead and set the stage for Jefferson’s game-winner.
“Dontell played one of his best games as a Razorback,” Heath said. “He was huge in a lot of ways.”
In addition to the 13 points, Jefferson had five assists, four steals and two blocked shots.
Brewer was just seven-of-21 shooting, but finished with 23 points. Ferguson had seven points, and Jonathon Modica had eight points and six rebounds.
Giles had 12 points for Kansas and Chalmers 11.
Arkansas overcame 55.6 percent shooting by Kansas in the second half by winning the rebounding battle (18-13). For the game, KU shot 49.1 percent while Arkansas shot 44.6 percent and the Jayhawks had a 33-32 rebounding advantage.
Maryland topped host Chaminade, 98-69, after trailing 46-44 at the half. The Terrapins shot 60.6 percent in the second half and forced 19 turnovers. Chris McCray had 17 points, and James Gist and Nik Medley-Caner 16 each.
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