GAME NOTES: A pair of SEC teams trending in opposite directions are set to square off on Thursday night, as the Missouri Tigers welcome the Arkansas Razorbacks to Mizzou Arena.
Arkansas has won back-to-back games on the heels of losing four of its previous five games, having beaten Alabama at home on Feb. 5 (65-58) before downing Vanderbilt last Saturday (77-75). The Razorbacks are now 15-8 overall and 4-6 in the SEC, and their most recent victory at Vanderbilt was their first road triumph in five tries.
Meanwhile, Missouri has been fading fast with losses in three straight games, including a 91-88 setback at Ole Miss on Saturday, to slip to 4-6 in the league. Despite their slide, Missouri still boasts an impressive 16-7 overall record, which includes a 10-2 mark at Mizzou Arena.
After 40 all-time meetings, each side has defeated the other 20 times. Missouri won the first matchup this season, 75-71 in Fayetteville on Jan. 28, which was the Tigers' last win.
The Razorbacks coughed up a nine-point second-half lead in their latest bout and trailed by one in the waning seconds before Michael Qualls knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer with four seconds left to lift them to the dramatic victory. They allowed Vandy to shoot 51.1 percent from the field, but they were even better at 54 percent, which included a blistering 10-of-16 showing from 3-point range. Qualls' game-winner capped off a 17-point performance, while Coty Clarke (14 points), Rashad Madden (12) and Mardracus Wade (11) were all solid as well.
Arkansas' strength this season has come on the offensive end of the court, where it shoots 45 percent from the field for 81.0 ppg, which is tops in the SEC. Its high point totals, as well as its outstanding +6.0 turnover margin, help it mask a mediocre scoring defense (70.2 ppg). Bobby Portis the team's top producer in terms of scoring (13.1 ppg), field-goal percentage (.544) and rebounding (6.6 rpg). Madden (12.7 ppg) and Qualls (11.5 ppg) also net double figures, while nine others score at least 3.1 ppg for the balanced squad.
The Tigers faced a 15-point deficit at the half over the weekend, and while they pieced together a valiant comeback effort, getting as close as one point of the lead, they could never overtake the Rebels. They shot 47.5 percent from the field, including 11-of-28 from 3-point range, but they could not keep pace with Ole Miss, which made good on 50 percent of its field-goal tries with 14 3-pointers. Earnest Ross put up a team-high 24 points, while Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown were hot of his tail with 23 and 20, respectively. Ryan Rosburg was solid as well with 11 points.
While Missouri is certainly reeling of late, it still boasts impressive numbers on the season both offensively (.462 FG percentage, 74.8 ppg) and defensively (.400, 68.4 ppg) while also sporting an impressive rebounding margin (+6.2) and free-throw percentage (.722). Brown is the conference's second leading scorer, pouring in 20.1 ppg with great percentages from the field (.500), 3-point range (.462) and the free-throw line (.793). Clarkson is an outstanding second option with 18.9 ppg on 47.5 percent shooting, while Ross (14.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) rounds out one of the nation's best scoring trios.
With both teams on the bubble for NCAA Tournament consideration, each has a lot to prove over the next few weeks if they want to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Even though Arkansas pulled out a road win last week, it has still been a vastly inferior team away from Fayetteville, which doesn't bode well taking on a strong home team in Missouri.
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