FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Daniel Gafford and Dustin Thomas bent over in frustration as the basketball rolled out of bounds under the Missouri basket.
The Arkansas post players each went up uncontested to rebound a missed free throw and neither ended up with the ball with the Razorbacks trailing 57-53. To punctuate the turnover, Missouri’s Kassius Robertson drained a mid-range jumper to give the Tigers a 59-53 lead and seemingly all the momentum with 4:43 left.
Arkansas, losers of three straight SEC games since jumping into the AP Top 25, appeared headed to its first four-game losing streak in Coach Mike Anderson’s seven seasons.
Gafford had different ideas.
The Arkansas freshman scored seven of Arkansas’ final 12 points including a monster two-handed dunk with 57 seconds left to help the Razorbacks knock off Missouri 65-63 in front of 18,297 in Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
Both of Gafford’s late-game dunks came off pick-and-roll assists from Daryl Macon, who had eight for the game coming off the bench.
“I’ve been doing pick and roll all my life pretty much,” said Gafford, who led the Razorbacks with 15 points. “That’s basically what my high school team was based off of.
“Daryl’s a good passer. He tells me before every game if I’m open, he’s going to find me.”
Said Macon: “And I tell him if he doesn’t shoot it, we’re going to have a problem.”
A problem was exactly what Arkansas (12-5, 2-3 SEC) was facing after seeing an 18-point first half lead evaporate. Missouri (12-5, 2-2) shot the lights out in the second half after a struggling against a swarming Arkansas defense early.
The Tigers hit 11 3-pointers for the game, with Robertson accounting for six from deep. Robertson, who led Missouri with a game-high 26 points, hit a 3-pointer with 7:24 left to pull the Tigers within 53-52, then continued to find the range with another 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper.
Arkansas did not help its cause with missed opportunities at the free-throw line. The Razorbacks were just 14 of 25 for the game.
“If you’d told me we’d be 14 of 25 free throws and give up 11 threes, I’d ask how did we win this game?” Anderson asked. “But we did it with defense and energy. In the last two minutes our defense rose to the occasion.”
Arkansas also forced two huge Missouri fouls on screens that resulted in turnovers late. On back-to-back possessions, Macon and Anton Beard stepped in to take hard fouls with the Tigers attempting to screen to get their guards open.
“Those were big,” said Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin. “We can’t let that happen in those situations.”
Macon said the Razorbacks did not panic when the lead changed hands.
“I was surprised when we lost the lead, because I wasn’t even paying attention to the score,” he said. “I was like into the game. Then I look up and the lead changed. We just had to get back into it mentally and get a W.”
Missouri: The Tigers fell into a deep hole to start the game, and although they rallied to take the lead late in the second half, in the final five-plus minutes they were clearly fatigued.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks had struggled defensively before Saturday’s win, giving up more than 75 points in four straight games. Arkansas held Missouri to 42 percent shooting from the floor.
Freshman Darious Hall got his first start for Arkansas, and Anderson said his energy in the first half helped the Razorbacks get off to a quick start. The 6-foot-6 forward scored 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and had five rebounds.
Robertson was huge for Missouri offensively. The 6-foot-3 guard was 9 of 15 from the floor with eight rebounds and three steals.
Missouri will host Tennessee on Wednesday before playing three of its next four SEC games on the road starting with a game at Texas A&M next Saturday.
Arkansas hits the road Wednesday at Florida. The Razorbacks are 2-4 on the road this season with SEC losses to Auburn and Mississippi State.