FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – LSU built a big lead and Arkansas made a few runs at the Tigers in the Southeastern Conference opener for each team Tuesday in Bud Walton Arena, but the Razorbacks never caught up in dropping a 66-55 decision.
Arkansas shot just 27.8 percent from the floor in the first half as LSU (10-1, 1-0) took a 35-23 halftime lead. The Razorbacks cut the lead to four once, five once and six three times in the second period, but could get no closer as they fell to 8-4 and 0-1.
“Once we settled down in the second half, we were able to cut the lead to six points,” head coach Stan Heath said. “That gave us some momentum, but it seemed like all of our shots would just go in and out. Their shots would bounce and bounce and then go in.”
Billy Pharis led Arkansas with career highs of 21 points and 11 rebounds. His three with 13:48 to play pulled UA within 42-36. With a chance to get closer, Arkansas turned the ball over twice and missed a free throw. The Razorbacks were just two of 10 at the free throw line while LSU was 19 of 26.
Despite the shooting problems, Arkansas closed within 42-38 on a dunk by Rashard Sullivan with 10:26 remaining, but the Tigers scored on three straight possessions – jumpers by Darrel Mitchell, Antonio Hudson and Brandon Bass – to push the lead to 48-38.
UA cut the deficit to 50-45 on a Jonathon Modica free throw with 4:22 left, but Bass, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, hit a three from the top of the key that bounced high off the rim and fell through for an eight-point lead.
LSU went 10 of 10 at the line in the final 1:27 to secure the victory.
“There are some hurting hearts in that locker room,” Heath said. “They wanted it bad. They had practiced so well and were well-prepared for this game. There was a big discrepancy in free throws. When you have two free throws to 19 free throws, that makes a big difference. We have been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the free throw line. I think it’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing.”
Modica, the SEC’s second-leading scorer coming into the game, finished with 11 points, and Eric Ferguson had 10 points and six assists.
Mitchell had 13 points for LSU. Jaime Lloreda, the SEC’s leading scorer coming in, had seven points and 15 rebounds.
Arkansas travels to Mississippi State for a 2 p.m. non-televised game on Saturday.