Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Arkansas holds off Sam Houston in opener
NWA MEDIA/SAMANTHA BAKER -- Arkansas' Marshawn Powell (left) and Jeremy McKay from Sam Houston State dive for the ball during the second half of the men's season opener Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Coty Clarke scored 20 points in his debut to lead Arkansas to a hard-fought 73-68 season-opening win over Sam Houston State on Friday at Bud Walton Arena.
Clarke, a junior college transfer, scored 11 points after halftime as the Razorbacks held off several rallies by the Bearkats. Arkansas led by 11 points three separate times, but could never quite put away its foe from the Southland Conference.
Sam Houston State dominated Arkansas on the board, out-rebounding the Razorbacks 36-23. The Bearkats converted several of the opportunities into baskets, finishing with 14 second-chance points.
Arkansas never trailed after halftime, though, taking a 68-57 lead on a tomahawk baseline slam dunk by freshman Michael Qualls with 3:45 remaining.
The Bearkats put together a 9-2 run following Qualls' dunk to pull within 70-66 on a Jeremy McKay 3-pointer with 51.3 seconds left, but could get no closer.
Arkansas' free throw shooting was the team's strongsuit for much of the night. The Razorbacks made 26 of 32 from the stripe, but struggled late by missing three in the game's final minute.
Sam Houston State started the game strong, staking a 16-12 before the first media timeout. Arkansas answered with a 13-2 run to take the lead for good and led by as many as 13 points in the first half.
The Razorbacks held off a 9-0 Bearkats run just before halftime to take a 37-29 advantage at the intermission.
Marshawn Powell scored 14 points and grabbed a team-high five rebounds for Arkansas, while Hunter Mickelson added 11 points. Darius Gatson scored 20 points for the Bearkats in the loss.
Arkansas was without BJ Young, last season's leading scorer who served the last of a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules.