FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Marcus Thornton and LSU looked like a Top 25 team -- for about a half.
Thornton scored 28 points and made a key defensive play in the final minute to help the Tigers (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) rally for a 72-69 win over Arkansas on Wednesday night. LSU, ranked this week for the first time in more than two years, trailed by 18 early in the game and needed an 11-1 run at the end to win its seventh straight.
"At this point in the season, it is all just repetition," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "They know what they need to do and just have to execute."
With LSU ahead 70-69, Arkansas called a timeout with 55.5 seconds left. On the Razorbacks' next possession, Michael Sanchez was momentarily open down low, but Thornton was able to reach in and strip the ball for his seventh steal of the game.
The Tigers (22-4, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) couldn't breathe easy even then. LSU's Tasmin Mitchell missed a shot but was able to chase down his own rebound and was fouled with 16.2 seconds remaining. He then missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Garrett Temple came jumping in to snatch that miss for the Tigers -- their 20th offensive rebound of the game.
"We definitely knew going into the game they were going to be a very athletic, very strong team," Sanchez said. "We knew they'd be crashing the boards hard."
Thornton was fouled and made both free throws, and Arkansas' Rotnei Clarke missed a contested 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Mitchell finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Chris Johnson scored 12 points with 12 rebounds and six blocks for the Tigers.
"It came down to rebounding -- as simple as it sounds," Arkansas assistant coach Tom Ostrom said. "Mitchell's just kind of a bull in a china shop. ... Obviously, up front, those guys are a load to handle."
Razorbacks head coach John Pelphrey was on the bench during the game but didn't meet with the media afterward -- he's been fighting bronchitis.
Clarke scored 17 points for Arkansas, and Courtney Fortson added 17 of his own -- all in the second half. Fortson hurt LSU with his ability to finish drives to the basket with his left hand. His layup gave the Razorbacks (13-11, 1-10) a nine-point lead with 7:49 remaining. They led 68-61 after Sanchez's three-point play with 5:05 left.
Arkansas didn't make another field goal the rest of the way.
Terry Martin started LSU's final rally with a 3-pointer for his only points of the game. Johnson and Thornton then made back-to-back layups to tie it.
After Arkansas' Michael Washington made a free throw, Mitchell made a shot from about 18 feet to give LSU a 70-69 lead with 1:43 remaining.
Thornton scored 20 of his points in the second half. He was the second player in a week to hurt Arkansas from the perimeter -- Kentucky's Jodie Meeks scored 45 points in a win over the Razorbacks on Saturday.
"There's two guys in this conference that are pretty special that play that position," Trent Johnson said.
Arkansas was in control through most of a sloppy first half in which the teams combined for 21 turnovers. The Razorbacks jumped ahead 7-0, and it took over 10 minutes for any LSU player other than Mitchell to score.
Arkansas led 26-9 after Clarke scored nine straight points, and the Tigers -- playing without injured point guard Bo Spencer -- had a difficult time with the Razorbacks' press.
"We were God-awful the first half," Trent Johnson said.
The Hogs led by as many as 18, but LSU rallied to trail 32-26 at halftime. The Tigers would have been in even better shape had they not gone 3-of-12 from the free throw line in the half. They finished 12-of-24 on free throws.
Fortson was back for Arkansas after a one-game suspension.
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