FAYETTEVILLE – Junior Rotnei Clarke put the team on his shoulders Wednesday night to lead all scorers with 22 points, a season high and lead the Hogs to a 67-59 victory over Texas Southern at Bud Walton Arena. This was the third instance this season that Clarke has scored at least 20 points.
The Razorbacks (8-2), who found themselves trailing at halftime for the first time this season, came back in the second half to hold Texas Southern (2-8) to just under 30 percent shooting from the field.
"I knew that we would get a different team from Texas Southern than what they had shown before," said Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey. "I’m proud of our team for handling the adversity and battling all through the game. I’m very happy for our guys and this makes for a better Christmas with the win."
The Hogs began the first half playing suffocating defense and holding Texas Southern without a shot from the field in the first 2:50 of the game. The solid defense not only prevented shots, but also forced four turnovers over that span as well. Just as sound as they were defensively early in the game, the team’s offensive performance was just as good in those opening minutes as they went on a 9-0 run to start the game, courtesy of a few jumpers by senior Delvon Johnson, freshman Mardracus Wade and junior Marvell Waithe and a three-point basket by junior Rotnei Clarke, his first points of the game.
As good as the Hogs played in those opening minutes, shooting 53 percent and causing nearly a turnover a minute, they let the lead slip as Texas Southern went on a 15-2 run over 4:25 and actually took the lead by three after a couple of jumpers by Kevin Galloway. Galloway finished the half with eight points. The Hogs, however, were able to break the streak after Clarke buried a three-pointer and tie the game up at 23 at the 6:49 mark in the first half.
For the remainder of the half, both teams practically traded buckets and never could pull out too far from the other team. Five ties and six lead changes were the story for the final six minutes of the half as the Tigers would take a 35-33 lead into the locker room. The two point deficit was the first of its kind at halftime for the Razorbacks this season as they led a half in all nine games before.
After jumping out to a high shooting percentage, Arkansas saw that percentage dwindle throughout the half as they finished 12-for-34 from the field, while Texas Southern shot 12-for-23. In the point category, the Hogs were led by Clarke, who dropped 10, followed by Wade, who scored seven points.
At the start of the second half, Arkansas actually took a slim two point lead after a layup and a three-pointer from junior Jeff Peterson, but the Tigers kept it close through the first in those first six minutes of the half and actually took the lead right back to go up four at the 13:27 mark, 46-42 Tigers. The Hogs then went on their own huge run, scoring 18 of the next 21 points over nearly five minutes of play to take an 11 point lead, their largest of the night. During that run, the Razorbacks got 11 of those points from Clarke, including two three pointers. Clarke finished the night 4-of-7 from three-point land.
With still over eight minutes to play in the game, the Tigers would not go down quietly and went on another run, 10-2 over nearly five and a half minutes, to cut the Hog lead to three with three minutes to play. With a monster dunk from sophomore Glenn Bryant and clutch free throws from sophomore Julysses Nobles and Clarke, the Razorbacks pushed that lead back up to eight to clinch the win.
The Hogs recovered mightily with their shooting percentage in the second half, going 13-for-21 at 62 percent in the final 20 minutes and finishing at 46 percent for the game. Clarke was not the only Razorback player to score in doubles figures as Bryant finished with 11 points and four rebounds. That point total was Bryant’s second highest this season.
This was the last game for the Razorback men’s basketball team before the Christmas holiday, but will be back on the court at Bud Walton Arena next Wednesday, December 29th, when they take on North Carolina A&T at 7 p.m. For all information regarding the Razorback basketball team, be sure to log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.