LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The University of Arkansas men's basketball team is moving on to the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament after downing seventh-seeded Auburn 76-73 Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
"Just really proud of our team for leading 37 minutes of the 40-minute game," Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. "We wanted our shot diet tonight to be by paint points. We felt rebounding, especially defensive rebounding, would be the key to the win."
The No. 10 seed Razorbacks (20-12) didn't have to rely on the three-point shot to create offense against seventh-seeded Auburn (20-12), scoring 48 points in the paint while shooting 56% from the field.
Freshman guard Anthony Black led the Razorbacks with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists, while freshman guard Nick Smith added 14 points, three rebounds, two assists and made the go-ahead jump shot to give Arkansas a one-point lead with 20.4 seconds left in the game.
It was a tale of two halves.
The Razorbacks, who lost to Auburn earlier this year, took control early with a 10-0 run after allowing a pair of free throws from senior forward Jaylin Williams to open the game.
Arkansas freshman guard Jordan Walsh finished with 11 points, four rebounds and two assists. He found junior guard Ricky Council cutting to the basket for a dunk to give the Razorbacks a 30-20 lead with 5:05 to play in the first half.
The Tigers clawed their way back over the last two minutes with a 6-0 run to make Arkansas's lead 37-33 at the half.
Auburn junior guard K.D. Johnson scored a game-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting for a Tigers' offense that finished 49% from the floor. Senior guard Allen Flanigan delivered 15 points, while sophomore forward Johni Broome added 13 points.
The Razorbacks scored 15 points off 10 turnovers and held Auburn to just six second-chance points, an area Arkansas struggled in during their three-game losing streak. Over the last three games of the regular season, the Razorbacks allowed 15 second chance points per game.
"Second-chance points are big because we know in March a lot of games are going to come down to a couple of points in the last two minutes," Black said. "We just got to do the small stuff like that... try to get any edge we can."
Junior guard Davonte Davis scored seven points and pulled in a game-high 10 rebounds as Arkansas outrebounded Auburn by 18.
Arkansas led by as many as 15 points, and the Tigers didn't let the deficit get to their head.
Following a technical foul by Arkansas senior forward Kamoni Johnson, Auburn converted two free throws, retained possession and Johnson made a layup to cut into the Razorbacks' lead 59-55 with 9:15 to play.
The two teams traded blows down the stretch as Arkansas reached into foul trouble. Auburn came storming back to take a 73-72 lead with 41 seconds to play after a basket by Flanigan.
The Razorbacks regained the lead on the next possession. Thanks to Smith's baseline jumper, Arkansas took a 74-73 lead with 20.4 seconds remaining, and junior guard Davonte Davis closed it out with two free throws to send the Hogs to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
"For a freshman to make a shot like that in an SEC Tournament game, that's a big shot," Musselman said." [Nick] wanted the ball in his hands. I thought our guys did a good job of finding him and not rushing a shot."
With the victory, Musselman becomes the first coach in program history to have a 20-win season in each of his first four years.
Arkansas will battle second-seeded Texas A&M on Friday for a chance to advance to the semifinals. Coverage from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., begins at 6 p.m. Central on the SEC Network.
The Razorbacks split the season series against the Aggies, winning their first matchup 81-70 at Bud Walton Arena on Jan. 31, and losing 62-56 on the road in February.
"They're a really good team," Black said. "They play really hard. We have to go back and watch and see what worked, what didn't work, come out with a good gameplan like usual and execute the gameplay, try to play harder and more physical."