NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Razorback men’s basketball team got a huge boost from juniors Rotnei Clarke and Michael Sanchez, who each had season highs in points on Saturday night to help Arkansas to an 89-78 victory over the 19th-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores. Clarke’s point total would not be a career high, but Sanchez would pass his career high number of 14 just four minutes into the second half.
Arkansas (14-6, 4-3) would knock down over 55 percent of their shots on the night and would also dominate Vanderbilt (15-5, 3-3) in the rebounding category, especially in the first half, 14-8, en route to their first conference road victory of the season. The win would also be the Hogs first against a ranked opponent on the road since they defeated 18th-ranked Ole Miss in Oxford last year by a score of 80-73.
“We obviously know how good Vanderbilt is,” said Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey. “In every game they have controlled the game and we knew it would be a tall order. We played well and got production from a lot of people. (Michael) Sanchez came in and was awesome, Rotnei (Clarke) was amazing. The rebounding was there and this is something to build off of."
The Razorbacks, who had been slow first half starters in recent games came out in the first seven minutes matching the Commodores shot for shot, getting output from five different Hog players. Clarke, who had been held in check for the most part in his last few games, quickly got on the scoreboard in those first seven minutes, scoring six of Arkansas’ first 14 points.
With the Razorbacks’ big men of sophomore Marshawn Powell and senior Delvon Johnson getting in early foul trouble, the Hogs were forced to rely not only on Clarke, who had 16 first half points, but also on Sanchez, who easily had his best game to date, 10 first half points and two rebounds. The Hogs would take the lead at the 13:27 mark in the first half after a free throw from freshman Mardracus Wade to make it 15-14 and from there would slowly begin to build their lead.
Vanderbilt would keep it within five with five minutes to go in the half, but the Hogs would force the Commodores to miss just enough shots and dominate the boards on the defensive end, which would help them take a 43-36 lead into the locker room. In the first half, Clarke would not only lead all scorers with 16 points, but he would steadily work inside the three-point line, going 6-for-8 with only one three pointer.
Early in the second half, Vanderbilt would pull within four after two straight three-pointers from John Jenkins, but Arkansas would continue to keep the momentum in their favor as they had for almost the entire game after Clarke responded with two three-pointers of his own at the 14:27 point to make it a 59-47 Razorback lead.
Those threes would force Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings to call a timeout, but it would not do much to slow down the Razorback offense. After Clarke was forced to score most of his first half points inside the three point line, he would move his game outside and get back to doing what all Hog fans have missed seeing from the junior guard. In the second half alone, Clarke would explode for five second half three-pointers and 20 points to add to his total of 36.
Even as Vanderbilt would pull within nine with three minutes left, the Hogs continued to knock down free throws down the stretch and keep a good distance from their opponents. In the entire game, the Razorbacks went 20-for-28 from the free throw line.
For the game, Arkansas would shoot a season-high field goal percentage (57.4%) and give Vanderbilt their first home loss of the season. Clarke and Sanchez would lead the Hogs in scoring, 36 and 20 points respectively, and combine for 20-for-28 from the field.
The basketball team will look to extend its winning streak next week when they return home to face Georgia on Wednesday, Feb. 2, at Bud Walton Arena. The game is slated to tip off at 8 p.m. and will be televised by Comcast Sports.