Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle speaks during ...
Sluggish Razorbacks survive Bearkats scare
Jacorey Williams attempts a shot during Arkansas' 73-68 win over Sam Houston State on Nov. 9, 2012 at Bud Walton Arena.
FAYETTEVILLE Practice games are over for Arkansas.
The Razorbacks struggled to put away pesky Sam Houston State before taking a 73-68 victory in front of 7,450 fans Friday at Walton Arena. Arkansas (1-0) had cruised to easy victories in two exhibition games but found the Bearkats, picked to finish seventh in the Southland Conference, a tougher nut to crack.
“A lot of things came easy,” said Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson of his team’s two blowouts. “I thought we came out with that mind-set. We did some things that enabled them to stay in the game.”
Several times in the game, Arkansas built seemingly comfortable leads of 10 or more points. Each time the Bearkats (0-1) hunkered down, ignored the rowdy home crowd noise and scrapped back into the game.
“We’re happy to get the win more than anything else,” said Anderson, whose team played without All-SEC sophomore guard BJ Young, who was suspended for the game. “As a coach, you always worry about how your team is going to come out the first real game.
“We have to come out with much, much more intensity.”
The Bearkats kept Arkansas off the boards, finishing with a 36-23 rebounding advantage. Sam Houston ultimately couldn’t overcome Arkansas’ stellar free-throw shooting and defensive pres-sure that caused 19 turnovers that led to 20 Arkansas points.
“We were able to make plays,” Anderson said. “I think we can build on that.”
Bearkats Coach Jason Hooten said his young team battled despite having two solid inside players who didn’t play. He said he knew his team’s resilience would carry the Bearkats through some Arkansas runs but he wasn’t patting any backs for the close call.
“There’s definitely not anything as a moral victory,” Hooten said. “We got on a bus for eight hours to come up here and get a victory.”
The poor rebounding - Sam Houston had more offensive rebounds (13-7) - was a concern for Anderson and his players. Anderson gave credit to the Bearkats for playing like a team that had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“They wanted it more,” Anderson said. “They brought the fight to our guys. We’re a much, much better rebounding team than that.”
Arkansas was led by junior reserve forward Coty Clarke, who had 20 points. Clark was 10 of 12 from the free-throw line as four Razorbacks made 19 consecutive free-throw attempts spanning the first and second halves.
The Razorbacks finished 26 of 32 (81.3 percent) from the free-throw line but helped Sam Houston stay close by making just 3 of 6 in the last 41 seconds.
“This is the first game,” Clarke said. “You take it like you can get it.”
More impressive - certainly more inspiring to Anderson - was the return to real-game action by Arkansas injury-plagued forward Marshawn Powell. Powell, in his first game in a year after a knee injury, scored 14 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and blocked 2 shots.
“It felt weird, to be honest,” Powell said.
The Razorbacks found themselves trailing 8-4 before responding with a 6-0 run. The Bearkats hung around as the lead switched four times with several ties in the first half before Arkansas pulled away to take a 29-18 lead.
Arkansas extended its lead to 33-20, its largest of the game, before the Bearkats made three consecutive three-pointers. Darius Gatson, who led Sam Houston with 20 points, had two of the three-pointers and finished with four in the game.
The Razorbacks went ahead 68-57 on a thunderous dunk by freshman Michael Qualls in the last four minutes of the game that seemed to be the final nail on Sam Houston’s chances. The Bearkats scored the next six points to pull within 68-63 with 1:31 left in the game.
Sports, Pages 19 on 11/10/2012