FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas point forward Mason Jones had his second 40-point game of the season and his third consecutive game with at least 30 points, but No. 11 Auburn stole a page out of the Hogs’ road-comeback playbook by erasing a late 11-point deficit for a 79-76 overtime win Tuesday in front of 17,198 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas (16-6, 4-5 SEC) led 65-54 on junior guard Jalen Harris’s drive and dunk with 5:59 to play, but behind senior guard J’Von McCormick’s 10 points Auburn (20-2, 7-2 SEC) strung together a 15-3 run to take a 69-68 lead with 1:43 to play.
Jones made the second of two free throw attempts with :36 remaining to tie the game at 69-all, and after a defensive stop the Hogs got the ball back in regulation with 6.5 seconds remaining in regulation. Following a timeout, Jones brought the ball across midcourt, a help defender closed on him, and he passed to the left corner to Harris who missed a three-pointer as time expired.
Jones made 1-of-2 free throws as Arkansas grabbed a 70-69 lead to begin overtime, but Auburn scored the next six points to claim a 75-70 advantage at the 1:42 mark in the extra period.
Jones’s steal, lay-in, and free throw pulled the Hogs within 77-76 with :12 left in overtime, and after 2-of-2 free throw shooting by Auburn senior guard Samir Doughty with 9 seconds to play led to a 79-76 Tigers’ lead, Jones got off a three-point attempt at :01 that missed.
The Tigers improved to 3-0 in overtime games while notching their 4th win in their last 6 games against Arkansas,and the Hogs fell to 1-2 in overtime games this season while losing their third consecutive league game at home.
“I think we just played the 11th-ranked team in the country, had a lead, we’re down a player who’s one of the best players in the country, and we lost a game to an 11th-ranked team, and we lost to Kentucky who came in here ranked 12th,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said when asked about his team’s struggles to close out in recent home league games. “I thought the effort was phenomenal and we lost a basketball game.”
“I don’t care how many in a row it is. We lost to two really good teams, we did not play well against South Carolina and lost by two points.”
Arkansas had won three road games this season (Indiana, Ole Miss, and Alabama) after overcoming double-digit deficits, including two 11-point second-half deficits against the Hoosiers and Rebels. Auburn flipped the script by doing the same in Fayetteville on Tuesday en route to winning its 5th consecutive game, while the Hogs have won only twice in their last six games.
The SEC’s best rebounding team won the glass (44-27, including 15-6 in offensive rebounds) but a 16-6 advantage in second-chance-points was not devastating given that Arkansas collected 14 steals in winning the turnover battle (18-10) and points-off-turnovers (20-14).
Maybe the most telling stat of the game was free throw shooting. Auburn came in as the league’s second-to-worst free throw shooting team (67.4%), but the Tigers’ 21-of-30 effort (70%) was better than the Hogs’ 16-of-26 (61.5%).
Arkansas shot 25-of-59 overall field goals (42.4%), including 10-of-25 from 3 (40%). Auburn was 25-of-57 (43.9%), including 8-of-31 from 3 (25.8%).
In the absence of second-leading scorer Isaiah Joe — who will be out indefinitely following an athroscopic procedure on his injured right knee Tuesday — Jones once again did the heavy lifting on the offensive end of the floor, scoring 40 points (12-of-24 field goals, including 5-of-12 from 3, and 11-of-16 free throws) to go with 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 4 turnovers in 44 minutes.
It was Jones’ third straight game with at least 30 points, which is a first by an SEC player since South Carolina guard Devan Downey accomplished the same feat 20 years ago. Jones was named SEC Co-Player of the Week on Monday after notching 34 points in a loss against South Carolina last Wednesday followed by hitting 30 points in a win over Alabama on Saturday.
Jones, the SEC’s leading scorer coming in, fell one point shy of matching his career high in points (he scored 41 in a 98-79 win over Tulsa in December).
“How good is Mason Jones?” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl asked after the game. “Wow, what a story. He is just a great lesson for young people. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. He bettered himself. He’s as good as there is in the league.
“Obviously Arkansas just ran out of bodies without Isaiah Joe. So we were just fortunate.”
Jones was not as complimentary of his game as the Tigers’ head coach was.
“This wasn’t good enough tonight,” Jones said. “I should have did better. This game is definitely on me and I definitely have to get back to work and put in more work. I missed five free throws tonight. Good players don’t miss five free throws at the crib.
“I played good but it wasn’t good enough. So I don’t really want to talk about my stats because we lost.”
Sophomore guard Desi Sills had 14 points (4-of-10 field goals, including 4-of-6 from 3, and 2-of-4 free throws), 4 steals, 2 assists, and 1 rebound in 41 minutes.
Senior forward Adrio Bailey had 11 points (5-of-6 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 0-of-2 free throws), 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in 35 minutes.
Jimmy Whitt, Jr., came in averaging 15.4 points per game (8th in SEC) but was held scoreless on 0-of-7 shooting in 40 minutes.
Doughty led Auburn with 23 points (8-of-13 field goals, including 3-of-7 from 3, plus 4-of-4 free throws) while McCormick was next with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Freshman forward Isaac Okoro had 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Senior forward Anfernee McLemore had 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bemch, and senior forward Danjel Purifoy had 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists.
The first half was a game of runs as the Hogs used spurts of 10-0 and 7-0 to build a 30-23 lead, but the Tigers battled back with their own 11-0 surge that Jones stopped with a 2-of-3 free throw trip as Auburn led 34-32 at the break.
Jones finished the first half on pace for his third consecutive 30-point game as he had 15 points to go with 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
Arkansas started the game 12-of-20 from the field (60%), including 6-of-9 from 3 (66.7%), but the Hogs missed their last 9 field goal attempts leasing up to the break. Arkansas also managed only 2-of-5 free throw shooting (40%).
Auburn, led by Doughty’s 13 first-half points, shot 11-of-28 as a team (39.3%), including 4-of-16 from 3 (25%), and 8-of-11 free throws (72.7%).
Auburn won the first-half rebounding (21-16), while Atkansas won turnovers (9-7).
Up next for Arkansas, the Hogs go back on the road for a Saturday matchup against Missouri in Columbia, Mo.