BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
In the 116-year history of Missouri basketball, no Tigers team has ever beaten three Top 25 ranked teams in a row.
This season’s No. 20 Missouri squad, which knocked off No. 16 Illinois 93-71 in St. Louis and No. 19 Kentucky 89-75 at home last week, looked poised to do so with a 17-point first-half lead on No. 13 Arkansas on Tuesday.
But the Razorbacks ended the first half on an 8-0 run and then made 16 of 26 field goals and 11 of 13 from the free throw line after intermission to surge past the Tigers 74-68 in SEC action at Bud Walton Arena.
“I thought it was an outstanding SEC road game,” Missouri first-year head coach Dennis Gates said. “Two good teams being able to sort of try to balance two halves. I thought we had a great run to start the game and credit my guys for executing the game plan early.
“Arkansas started the game 8 for 26 and ended the game 16 for 21 and lived at the free throw line. So credit to them. They did a great job. Great atmosphere.”
It was Arkansas fifth straight win in the series, ninth in 10 games against the Tigers at Bud Walton Arena and left both teams 12-2 overall and 1-1 in league action.
The 17-point deficit was the largest of the season for the Razorbacks, who had trailed by 13 before rallying to beat San Diego State at the Maul Invitational.
“Collectively we just didn’t do enough to come away with a road win,” Gates said. “It is hard to win on the road, very difficult to do. I am proud of how we fought. I am not proud of how we defended in that second half.
“…I think that end of half run that they made ignited them a little bit, but also their great defense that they played to start the second half. They played unbelievable defense and we have got to credit that.”
Arkansas, which lost its SEC opener at LSU, travels to take on No. 22 Auburn (11-3, 1-1) Saturday night at 7:30.
Georgia (11-3, 1-1) downed the visiting Tigers 76-64 on Wednesday night.
Missouri, whose only previous loss this season was a 30-point home one to No. 6 Kansas, was up 25-8 with 9:31 left in the opening half.
That lead was cut to 34-27 by halftime and the Razorbacks outscored the Tigers 54-34 after intermission.
Arkansas got to the free throw line 13 times in the second half while limiting Missouri to seven charity tosses after the Tigers had taken double that in the first 20 minutes of action.
“We’ve got to do a better job of not fouling,” Gates said. “We ended up fouling guys. They lived at the free throw line in the second half and we weren’t able to execute, which was our game plan to get to the free throw line in the second, to start the half. We didn’t do that.
“I thought our guys were aggressive going forward in that second half, we just didn’t come away with the calls that I thought that we talked about at halftime that we were going to be able to get that we saw in the first half from a consistency standpoint.
Gates knew once Arkansas used.a 9-0 run in the second half to go up 46-42 with 13:42 left on Joseph Pinion’s 3-pointer, it was going to be a tall task for Missouri.
“Once they took that lead, we were playing uphill,” Gates said. “We missed eight straight shots (during that stretch) and I don’t think we were able to execute how we needed to.”
Arkansas held Missouri star Kobe Brown, the cousin of former Arkansas player Au’diese Toney, to 11 points on 3 of 7 field goal attempts and 5 of 6 from the line.
Brown had a combined 61 points in the wins over Illinois and Kentucky.
“They did a great job,” Gates said. “They had about four of five jump ball situations that they were able to force him into physically. They were physical down in the paint, but this is the SEC and what this league is about.
“I just thought that both sides of the basketball, if we are going to be physical, let us be physical. Ultimately they did a better job of staying on their feet and finishing.
Therefore it doesn’t appear to be a physical play. They did a great job of playing off two feet and forcing the whistle and we didn’t.”
Sean East had 13 points Nick Honor 12 for Missouri.
“I am really just proud of our guys,” Honor said. “We competed well and at the end of the day, when you look at it, we are doing a lot better than everybody expected and we believe this is just the beginning. So it was a loss, but it was definitely a lesson.
“We feel that we are one of the top teams in the country and we’ll just continue to get better, look at our mistakes and move on.”