Arkansas women hang on after another big lead disappears

By: Ethan Westerman Ethan Westerman's Twitter account
Published: November 10, 2023 at 12:38 p.m. - Updated: November 10, 2023 at 2:21 p.m.
Arkansas guard Sasha Goforth takes a shot while Murray State’s Zoe Stewart defends Friday Nov. 10, 2023 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
( J.T. Wampler)
Arkansas guard Sasha Goforth takes a shot while Murray State’s Zoe Stewart defends Friday Nov. 10, 2023 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — A big second quarter provided enough insurance for the Arkansas women’s basketball team to withstand a furious rally by Murray State on Friday at Bud Walton Arena.

The only thing preventing the Racers from a comeback may have been the clock, as Arkansas (2-0) held on to defeat Murray State 82-79 in front of an announced crowd of 11,026 — the fourth-largest at home in program history.

The Razorbacks led by as many as 24 points in the third quarter before the Racers (0-1) pulled within one possession late. 

Murray State guard Zoe Stewart hit a three-pointer with 33 seconds remaining to draw the Racers within three points, the closest they had been since early in the second quarter.

Samara Spencer missed a shot from deep with three seconds left in the game and Murray State pulled in the rebound, but officials did not hear or see Racers coach Rechelle Turner calling for a timeout.

Had they noticed, Murray State would have advanced the ball into the front court and had a chance to tie the game. Instead, the clock expired with no shot taken, preserving an Arkansas victory.

The noisy crowd of elementary students likely played a factor in the chaotic finish.

“Anybody on their bench could have called a timeout, or the kid on the rebound, sure,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said, “but that's a hard thing to work on [in] Game 2 — you know, end-of-game situations. But I think the crowd helped us in a number of ways throughout the game, and that's certainly one that's worth maybe asking them about. It was definitely deafening at times in there.”

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Much like the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, the Razorbacks had trouble closing out a game after creating a large lead. Arkansas led by 14 points late against the Warhawks on Tuesday before surviving a scare and winning 81-76.

“The lineups was part of it,” Neighbors said of allowing the Racers to creep back in. “I've told everybody, I was a little stubborn — maybe a little bit too long — one possession worth of stubbornness of letting us play through some things. I hadn't called a timeout. I wanted to see where we're at.

“I need to see, ‘Do we have depth?’ I've been talking about us having depth. Do we? I need to see it in a game, and I need to see those lineups. My stubbornness was probably the large part of it. Obviously, they made us pay every time we made a mistake, but again, kind of like the other night, I thought it was quick shots, and then a quick shot leads to [what we call] shot turnovers. It leads to them getting a three on the other end.”

Arkansas was outscored in every quarter but the second, which the Razorbacks won 31-14. Freshman guard Taliah Scott scored 12 of her game-high 25 points in the quarter, and the Razorbacks shot 13-for-20 (65%) during the period.

Scott recorded 29 points in the opener against ULM three days prior. She shot 9-for-20 from the floor and was perfect on seven free throws Friday en route to another big scoring game.

“She does it every day,” Arkansas junior Saylor Poffenbarger said. “In practice she shows various ways of how she scores, and I think that it's hard to come out and do that two [games] in a row. I mean, it doesn't really feel like she's a freshman, because we've been practicing and I think that with going on a foreign trip, it doesn't feel like it's like her first two games.”

Poffenbarger scored 10 points and had 12 rebounds in 32 minutes. It was her fifth career double-double, and it came on the heels of a 21-rebound performance in the season opener.

“She got 12 rebounds, but I think she tipped another three or four to somebody else that got them,” Neighbors said. “A lot of people don't understand how grueling it is to go after every single ball that goes up. She wants it, that's her role, she accepts it [and] she knows how much we need it.”

The Racers took a 17-16 lead through 10 minutes, as Arkansas came out cold and shot 5-for-19 in the first quarter. The second quarter was a different story, as the Razorbacks regained the lead and ballooned it to 47-31 by halftime on 65% shooting.

“I thought we had a group that was doing easy things,” Neighbors said. “They were making the easy pass. They were making the easy cut. We weren't really trying to do hard things.”

Arkansas scored the first eight points of the second half to grow its lead to 55-31 — the largest of the game — but from there had a difficult time defending. Murray State scored 48 points in the game’s final 15:37.

Much of the Racers’ quick offense came from live-ball turnovers that were converted into points. Murray State scored 30 points off 18 Razorbacks turnovers.

“I think obviously there's some frustration of not being able to close out,” Poffenbarger said, “but I think it's just learning. And we're a new team. We have a lot of new things and [are] trying to play together. We're trying to work out some kinks.”

Makayla Daniels added 15 points and 6 rebounds for the Razorbacks, and Spencer chipped in 11 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds. Stewart led Murray State with 19 points and Ava Learn added 15.

It was the program's highest-attended game since Jan. 19, 2003, when 11,486 were on hand to watch Arkansas upset then-No. 2 LSU.

An announced 49 different elementary schools brought a combined 135 buses of students – roughly 7,300 kids – to the game.

“For us to get that, 10,000 was kind of our goal, and to shatter that, I think it talks about where Arkansas sports is in general,” Neighbors said.

Arkansas is scheduled to host Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday at 7 p.m.


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