Thursday was one of those nights for Jabari Brown.
One of those nights where his steely-eyed, assassin-like gaze led him to the rim. Where he upped the ante on his already Southeastern Conference-leading scoring average. Where the entirety of Mizzou Arena — all of its 12,362 spectators — knew the junior guard would take the shot that would to decide not only the fate of another one-possession game for Missouri, but also its postseason dreams.
But that’s because fellow junior guard Jordan Clarkson stopped moving.
Arkansas’ Mardracus Wade face-guarded the Tigers’ pointman and kept him from Brown’s dribble handoff. With 15 seconds left, Clarkson refused to cross half court and Brown made haste toward the basket as the Tigers (17-7, 5-6 SEC) and Razorbacks (15-9, 4-7 SEC) played four-on-four.
Brown drove right, then spun back left and let go a floater that took Missouri to cloud nine: 12.2 seconds later, a loose ball gobbled up by sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg sealed the Tigers’ 86-85 win over their rival to the south.
“I just made a decision to stay back because then there was gonna be nobody to help on Jabari’s drive, or whatever he was gonna do,” Clarkson said.
“You’re saying I should draw that up and put it in our playbook?” Mizzou coach Frank Haith asked.
For the bulk of the Tigers’ offensive possessions, the play Haith drew up was to put the ball in either Clarkson or Brown’s hands.
Clarkson quietly scored a game-high 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Brown added 25 points with 14 coming off free throws. None were bigger than his final lay-in.
“I saw some more space,” Brown said. “I didn’t want to settle for a jumper. I wanted to try to get a shot going towards the basket and I was able to get a pretty good shot.”
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said his team had no solution for the Oregon transfer.
“We didn’t have an answer for him,” he said. “I mean look at the stats they tell it all. His free throws, now that’s unheard of and to his credit he made them.”
The victory means Mizzou’s NCAA tournament hopes are still alive as the Tigers host Tennessee on Saturday.
Arkansas put those aspirations against the ropes, though, with 3:30 to play. The Razorbacks launched a 10-0 run that brought them from eight down to up two with 1:17 left.
Clarkson drove left and the Hogs’ Bobby Portis caught him across the arm. With the chance to tie the game at 85, he missed the back half of a pair of free throws, but was bailed out when Rashad Madden stepped out of bounds with 23 seconds to play.
Brown spun past Madden on a de facto power play the next possession to put the Tigers ahead for good.
“Once Jordan kind of bailed out, I said, ‘Jabari, go. Go.’ And he went and made a play,” Haith said.
Anderson said Wade was right to force the ball away from Clarkson, but help defense could have prevented Brown from cutting to the middle.
“You gotta get back in the flow of defense, but he kept the ball out of Clarkson’s hands and he made a play,” Anderson said. “Now you gotta man-up. You gotta get a stop and we didn’t and he made a play.”
Out of a Razorback timeout, Madden drove right and tried a layup in traffic that fell into Portis’ hands. Rosburg swiped at it though and as the ball bounced free, time expired.
“They made one more play than we did,” Anderson said. “We didn’t lose the game, we just ran out of time.”
Haith said the last two stops will be what he takes away from the win.
“Those stops, if you want to win ballgames, you’ve gotta make plays,” Haith said. “I thought our guys made plays there at the end.”
It was yet another tight contest for the Tigers that was decided by one possession. Every conference defeat, aside from a 10-point loss at No. 3 Florida, has been at most a two possession game. Against the Gators, Brown’s six-game streak of scoring 20-plus points was snapped.
Finally, Haith said, his team was on the winning end of a close game and Brown was back in his groove. It was one of those nights, after all.