LSU battled for 40 minutes to win its last game. Arkansas removed all stress in the first 10 minutes of its most recent contest and rolled to its first Southeastern Conference victory.
The No. 12 Tigers (15-1, 3-1 SEC) and Razorbacks (11-5, 1-3) will meet Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge, La.
LSU starting point guard Xavier Pinson didn’t play at Florida on Wednesday and the Tigers saw two key players foul out. But they managed to hold off repeated runs by the Gators and grabbed a 64-58 victory.
“We’re fighters,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “We’re a tough out. We have guys that stepped up and came through for us.”
Eric Gaines started in Pinson’s place and scored a career-high 15 points in a career-high 34 minutes.
“He made some huge plays,” Wade said.
Darius Days, who had a total of just 10 points and six rebounds in three previous games in Gainesville, a mere 20 miles from his hometown of Raleigh, Fla., had a game-high 20 points, including 11 in the first 8 1/2 minutes, and Brandon Murray scored 10.
“I thought we got off to a great start, which was huge,” Wade said.
The Tigers never trailed in the game, leading by as many as 14 points in the first half and by eight at halftime.
The Gators closed within three points once, two points five times and one point once in the first half, but LSU held them off each time even though leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Tari Eason fouled out with 14:07 left and starting center Efton Reid fouled out with 7:16 to play.
LSU has won three straight SEC games since losing its conference opener at Auburn on Dec. 29. Auburn is up to No. 4 in the latest Top 25 poll and could rise again next week following Baylor and Southern Cal losses.
Arkansas had lost five of six before hosting Missouri, which was coming off an upset of Alabama, on Wednesday. The Razorbacks dominated from the start, racing to a 26-3 lead after 10 minutes and leading 49-15 at halftime on their way to an 87-43 victory.
“Whatever it takes to win — that was the mindset,” said Trey Wade, who had a season-high 17 points. “We came in, we tried to play as hard as we can. We tried to play team basketball. I think we took a step forward.”
After committing a season-worst 18 turnovers in a loss to Texas A&M on Jan. 8, the Razorbacks committed a season-low eight. They had 13 steals among 23 Missouri turnovers and outscored the Tigers 26-4 in points off of turnovers.
“We know that games like this don’t happen often,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “I can’t remember a league game in any league I’ve ever coached where a team played so well for 40 minutes. I think we played as hard as any college team could play for 40 minutes.”
Missouri shot 12 percent in the first half, 29.9 percent for the game, and finished 2 of 16 on 3-pointers.
“We guarded the three and we guarded the rim,” Musselman said. “It can happen, but you’ve got to have all five guys doing exactly what you’re supposed to do.”
Arkansas announced Thursday that Musselman will be unavailable for at least two games, starting with the visit to LSU, after undergoing shoulder surgery. Musselman collided with Wade in practice six weeks ago and could no longer delay a surgery to repair torn tendons in his shoulder.
–Field Level Media
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