On three previous occasions this season, LSU's Keith Hornsby had the ball in his hands and a chance to either win or tie the game against Kentucky, LSU and Texas A&M.
The son of musician Bruce Hornsby was unsuccessful in those earlier trio of opportunities, but came through in the clutch on Saturday when he hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give LSU an 81-78 victory over No. 18 Arkansas Saturday before 18,966 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"We knew coming into the day, coming into this type of environment and atmosphere that we were going to have to play every second, every play against a great basketball team, one of the top 16 teams in the country," LSU head coach Johnny Jones said. "Knew it was going to take a great effort and that's exactly what it took for us today, playing every second of every play and it ended with Hornsby hitting a huge shot for us.
"Really proud of our basketball team," Jones added. "These guys came out without one of our primary players, who has been making an impact all year on our team, but having the ability to stick together, believe and trust in each other and pulling off a huge win. We're certainly excited about the outcome of the day."
Hornsby, who was 0-of-3 from 3-point range and 5-of-13 overall up until that point, got the opportunity to be the hero when Arkansas defender Michael Qualls left him to try and stop Tigers point guard Josh Gray on a drive.
"It is just one of those moments that I will never forget no matter what happens in my basketball playing career,” Hornsby said. “I can always look back at this night as one of the best nights and probably the biggest shot that I have ever made in my life. That is how I would look back on this.”
While it was a big moment for Hornsby, it was obviously a painful one for Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, whose Razorbacks (24-7, 13-5) were 17-2 at home this season.
"What a great atmosphere, what a great game. It's too bad we couldn't come away with it," Anderson said. "That one falls on me. When you talk about a senior day it can go one of two ways. You talk about emotion and sometimes you spend that emotion. Obviously it seemed like we were a step slow, especially in that first half."
The loss not only spoiled Senior Day, but also negated a marvelous performance by Arkansas sophomore Bobby Portis , who had 21 points, a career-high 15 rebounds (10 offensive ones) and four assists.
Qualls added 15 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, senior Rashad Madden 12 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, Anthlon Bell 12 points and senior Alandise Harrisadded 10 points for the Razorbacks.
There has been speculation that both Portis and Qualls could have played their last home game as well, but it didn't sound that way.
"No. not at all," Portis said. " I am just going to try and be the best Razorback I can be. Try to be the best student-athlete I can be at the time. I am not worried about anything but trying to win for our program and our guys."
Qualls said he is focused on the present.
"I am not jumping looking at the future," Qualls said. "I am worried about Razorback basketball and getting ready for the SEC Tournament so we can do business there and just take care of business."
Harris played despite having a death in the family this week.
"Alandise, I'm really proud of him," Anderson said. "He didn't practice yesterday with us. As a matter of fact he just got back in this morning around 1:30. He had a death in his family. His aunt passed away last Saturday, so he attended the funeral after coming back from the trip to South Carolina.
"You could just see it," Anderson added. "You can imagine his emotion and you could see it in the first half, it wasn't the same Alandise Harris. I was proud of him in the second half when he started to settle down and got to the free throw line and made plays for us."
Andersin also praised Madden.
"Ky (Madden), what can you say? The young man has really grown up and impacted this program," Anderson said. " That ends the conference season, the non-conference season and now we move to the next season, which is the postseason. We've got to turn our attention and get ready for that, get this out of our system real quick. Again, LSU played a heck of a basketball game. "
Arkansas trailed by 12 in the second half, but rallied to take a 78-75 with 1:17 left in the game when Harris hit the last two of six free throws he made in final 3:32 of the game.
But a Jalyn Patterson 3 with 57 seconds left tied it and LSU star Jarell Martin blocked Harris' shot with 26 seconds left.
Martin led the way for the Tigers (21-9, 11-7) with 27 points while Patterson added 20 for LSU, who were playing without second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Jordan Mickey.
It was a big win for LSU, who was one of six SEC teams projected to be the NCAA Tournament entering the week, and Jones thinks his team deserves to get in.
"I would like to think so.," Jones said. "... I think we've won some huge games: at West Virginia, winning at a great place like this against a tremendous basketball team. We've had I guess five or six road wins now in conference play and in this tough conference, I think we're one of the better teams in the country."
Anderson - whose team shot 42.4 percent from the field and hit 7 of 25 3-pointers and 15-of-23 free throws - didn't want to hear anything about his team playing Thursday night and not getting home until 1:30 a.m. as a reason for its losing on Saturday.
"There are no excuses," Anderson said. "They just played well. It was quick turnaround, there's no question about it, but that's an excuse. We had an unbelievable atmosphere. Our guys, on senior day you want to send them out on a positive note. And we've been playing pretty good basketball. But I really felt our defense could have been a little bit better."
Qualls - who claimed he got back and tipped the shot - was obviously upset with the loss for Arkansas, who had already clinched the second seed in next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville.
"I tipped it," Qualls said. "He just made a basketball play. This is how it happens. I don't know maybe I gave it the right spin when I tipped it. He made a big shot for them."
Arkansas won the board battle 39-35, forced 14 turnovers and had just 12 and the Razorbacks had 7 blocks to the visitors' two.
Hornsby's shot meant LSU finished the game at exactly 50 percent from the field while hitting 9-of-21 3-pointers and 6-of-11 free throws.
The shot fulfilled a promise Hornsby made to Jones, whose Tigers played without sophomore star Jordan Mickey and were fighting for the NCAA Tournament life after losing at home to Tennessee on Wednesday night.
"I've had a few other opportunities like that throughout the year and the others haven't gone in," Hornsby said. "One day I texted coach, I was like, 'One day I'm going to make his shot for you.' Today was the day it happened. So I got a great opportunity and I nailed it."
Arkansas' crowd was a season-high and had a stripe out with alternate sections of red and white.
Josh Gray grabs a celebrating Keith Hornsby after he hit the game-winning shot.
Bobby Portis plays defense on LSU's Jarrell Martin
LSU head coach Johnny Jones and Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson talk after the game.
LSU 81, Arkansas 78
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