The largest crowd of the season - and almost as many that had seen Missouri play in its first three games combined - showed up at Bud Walton Arena on Friday night and got rewarded with a win, but just barely.
Ronnie Brewer had 20 points and Jonathon Modica 19 and both came up with big shots late as did Dontell Jefferson as the University of Arkansas held off Missouri 66-63 in an intense, physical matchup played before 17,427 fans and both a state and Fox Sports Midwest television audience.
"Every game is a learning experience," Brewer said. "They played us really hard and came back, but we showed a lot of character."
Charles Thomas added 11 points and Darian Townes 8 points, 7 rebounds and 6 of his team's 9 blocked shots as the Razorbacks (5-2), who led by as much as 15 in the first half and 14 with just over 7 minutes left in the game.
But Arkansas found itself down down 58-57 when Jason Horton - who chose the Tigers over the Razorbacks - swished a three-pointer with 2:04 remaining and 61-60 when he banked one in with 1:22 remaining.
A 3-pointer and a free throw by Brewer and Modica's old fashioned 3-point play plus Jefferson's two free throws down the stretch were enough to hand the Razorbacks the hard-earned victory.
"I would have loved to have gone ahead and closed out the game when we had the lead - and we have got to do a much better job of that," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said, "but Missouri stayed in there and played hard and refuse to give up. But I am still very proud of our team because I think we played excellent defense at times and we made big plays at the end. We use to lose games like this, but now we are winning them."
Kevin Young had 13 points, Thomas Gardner 11 and Marshall Brown 10 and Horton 9 to lead Missouri (2-2), who was playing its first road game this season after playing three home games before a combined crowd of 19,795 fans.
"I'm really proud of our effort - to be down and come back in the end and get in the position to win," Missouri head coach Quin Snyder said. "Arkansas does a great job of playing to their strengths. Brewer becomes the difference. He made every big play and he just improves everyone else."
Snyder, whose team suffered a 80-77 home loss to Sam Houston State before downing Northwest State (who beat homestanding Mississippi State) and UMKC, said it was the best game his team had played this season by far.
"Our team grew up tonight a little bit as far as playing together," Snyder said. "Some of it is youth and some of it is discipline. We were playing against a different level of athletes tonight.
"In the second half we started playing better together and better offensively," Snyder continued. "We pivoted, faked, worked, found people and made some shots. We were more cohesive offensively."
The Tigers looked to be falling out of the game when Brewer's dunk surged Arkansas ahead 53-39 with 8:08 left, but Matt Lawrence's 3-pointer started the Tigers on a 19-4 run, one that Horton capped with his cold-blooded three-pointer from the left corner.
Brewer then drilled his own 3-pointer only to watch Horton shoot a straight on shot from the top of the key that went off the board and through at the 1:22 mark to give Missouri a 61-60 lead.
Townes missed a shot inside, but Modica powered his way in for the rebound basket, was fouled and and made the free throw as the Razorbacks went back in front and took the lead for good at 63-61 with 1:11 left.
Modica scored on a variety of drives where he beat his man on the night, but got his biggest play on the aforemetioned rebound basket.
"The fans showed a lot of support and it was a great basketball game," Modica said. "They kept us on the game. I felt like Missouri couldn't guard me. Coach Heath told me to continue being aggressive and try to draw fouls."
Brewer split a pair of free throws and then Eric Ferguson missed a pair - leaving the door open for Missouri to get within 64-63 when Young tipped in a Horton free throw miss with just 10.2 seconds on the clock.
Jefferson- who had a game-high 6 assists and just one turnover - then rimmed in his free throw and netted his second to set the final score in a game where each team had 16 turnovers.
"Tonight was a whole different level of team than we have seen this year," Gardner said. "It seemed like every time we made a push they came up with big shots or created a turnover with their defense."
Arkansas look to be seizing control of the game behind a 12-1 run, one that included a pair of 3-pointers by Brewer and was capped by Townes' 8-footer that pushed the Razorbacks ahead 28-13 with 6:11 remaining in the opening half.
It was still a 15-point advantage when Modica scored on a fast break lay-up to make it 31-16, but Missouri steadied itself and made it a contest again by intermission.
Seven straight points started a 10-1 run that brought the Tigers within 32-26 on Matt Lawrence's 3-pointer with 2:02 remaining in the half.
Modica's two free throws with 10.9 set the halftime margin of 34-26, but after a Missouri turnover at the 6.7 mark the Razorbacks did have two more shots to add to that lead, but failed to do so.
"We thought we had the game under control at halftime," Heath said. "All of a sudden they were making threes and shots. They made shots even when our guys were in their vicinity. That was upsetting, but we fought to win and stopped their offense late."
The Razorbacks shot 55 percenf from the floor in the second half and 46 percent overall while Missouri - who hit 9 of its 18 3-point attempts - shot 44.2 percent from the floor.
The Razorbacks - led by Townes' seven rebounds and four each from Brewer, Steven Hill and Thomas - won the board battle 32-27.
Arkansas also had 16 fast-break points after Missouri had limited its first three foes to a combined six points on the break.
"We did't fold up and collapse," Townes said. "We stayed strong. Playing the Big 12 schools is really a challenge for us. But we have been showing a lot of growth."
Arkansas - which has won three straight home games since coming back from playing in the Maui Invitational - will return to the court on Tuesday night when it hosts Texas State in a 7:05 p.m. game.
The Razorbacks will then have 9 days before taking the court again after they complete their finals for a Dec. 15 matchup against Missouri State.
Arkansas junior guard Ronnie Brewer (10) handles the ball as Missouri's Marcus Watkins tries to defend.
Arkansas'student section gets into the game during a first half rally.
Arkansas 66, Missouri 63
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