COLUMBIA, Mo. - Jabari Brown just might have saved the Missouri Tigers' season.
Down a point with the clock winding down, the junior guard drove the lane, spun and connected on a mid-range floater with 12.2 seconds left Thursday night to hand Missouri an 86-85 victory against Arkansas at Mizzou Arena.
"I didn't want to settle for a jumper," Brown said of his game-winning play. "I wanted to try to get a shot going toward the basket. I was able to get a pretty good shot."
The circumstances for Brown's game-winner were a little peculiar. With Mardracus Wade sticking to Missouri point guard Jordan Clarkson like white on rice, Clarkson decided to stay in the backcourt. Wade stayed with him, leaving a four-on-four situation.
"I just made a decision to stay back because then there was going to be nobody to help on Jabari's drive or whatever he's going to do," Clarkson said.
With ample space, Brown took it to the hole.
"He could not have made that play last year," Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. "He's gotten so much better of going off the bounce, where he was a catch-and-shoot guy (last year)."
Arkansas had one last chance to win it. Rashad Madden attempted to drive to the basket, was cut off by Clarkson and Ryan Rosburg and forced up a mid-range jumper that didn't come all that close to going in the hoop.
"We had the ball going down the stretch and we thought we had a good look in terms of (Madden) going to the basket," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "... We gave ourselves a chance. We wanted to draw a foul or get to the basket. The ball just didn't bounce our way."
Not only did Brown keep Missouri's NCAA Tournament hopes alive, he saved the Tigers from an ignominious loss. The Tigers led 83-75 with 3:40 to play before Arkansas rattled off 10 straight points to take the lead.
"Basketball is a game of runs and we know that you want to have the run at the right time and our guys hung in there," Anderson said.
Brown finished with 25 points while connecting on 14-of-15 free throws, just behind Jordan Clarkson's game-high 27. Earnest Ross added 15 points and 11 rebounds.
"We didn't have an answer for him," Anderson said of Brown. "I mean, look at the stats, they tell it all."
This one looked more like a free-throw shooting contest than a basketball game. The teams combined for 75 free throws and 50 fouls in a contest that lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours.
"It does make it difficult to get in any kind of rhythm, but with that said, I thought it was a well-played basketball game," Haith said. "I thought it was a high-level game and great intensity. Both teams played hard."
Missouri tied a school record with 23 straight free-throw makes at one point, while setting a new benchmark with 27 straight makes over a two-game stretch. Missouri made 40 straight free throws against Arkansas dating back to the Jan. 28 game in Fayetteville, Ark. The Tigers finished a whopping 34-of-38 (89.5 percent) from the foul line Thursday, while Arkansas shot 29-of-37 (78.4 percent).
"We had the right guys going to the line tonight. We work at that and I think we're one of the better free-throw shooting teams in the league," Haith said while knocking on the table for good luck. Missouri does in fact lead the league in free-throw shooting during Southeastern Conference games, connecting at a 75.6 percent clip.
Clarkson went 11-of-13 from the charity stripe, while Ross went 5-of-6. Rosburg and Wes Clark connected on two attempts each.
"We're a good 3-point shooting team, but we can also drive the ball," Haith said. "When we have games that we don't get to the free-throw line, that's quite unusual. We get to the line and attack off the bounce, that's who we are."
After the teams exchanged runs early on, seven straight points from Brown - capped by a deep 3 from the right wing - gave Missouri a 39-33 advantage with 4:15 to play in the first half. Brown tallied 10 points during a 12-2 run that gave the Tigers a 44-35 lead late in the half. Missouri held a 48-42 edge at the intermission, helped by Brown's 16 points.
A 3-pointer from Ross and a layup from Rosburg gave Missouri its largest lead at 53-42. Down 63-55, Arkansas' Alandise Harris scored eight straight points to tie the game with 11:32 left.
Arkansas later took a 71-67 lead on two alley-oop dunks from Michael Qualls on consecutive possessions with 9:06 to go.
Missouri then rattled off nine straight as part of a 14-2 run to put the Tigers ahead 81-73.
After pair of free throws from Clarkson handed Missouri an 83-75 edge with 3:40 to play, Arkansas scored the next 10 points to take the lead with 1:11 to play. Clarkson missed the second of two foul shots with 54 seconds left, leaving Arkansas up 85-84. Arkansas stepped out of bounds on the ensuing possession, setting up Brown's heroics.
"I thought our guys made some big plays," Haith said. We had two big stops down the stretch. Jabari's shot was huge."
Madden paced Arkansas (15-9, 4-7 SEC) with 17 points. Harris poured in 16, Bobby Portis chipped in with 15, Coty Clarke added 12 and Qualls had 10.
Missouri (17-7, 5-6 SEC) hopes to continue to build its at-large resume when it hosts Tennessee at 3 p.m. Saturday.
"It keeps us going in the right direction," Brown said. "We have seven more games and we're trying to get all seven of them. We're going to take them one at a time and we've got a good Tennessee team coming in here."