FAYETTEVILLE – Courtney Fortson returned to the court and Rotnei Clarke scored 24 points to lead the Arkansas Razorback men’s basketball team to a hard fought 96-85 loss against No. 2 Texas at Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday night.
Arkansas (7-8) used the momentum of Fortson’s return and a great crowd of 12,865 to match the Longhorns over the opening 20 minutes of play, but Texas (14-0) was too big down low and used a 50-point effort in the paint to pull off the road win.
"Texas is a tremendous basketball team," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "This loss was certainly not from a lack of effort. Both teams competed at a very high level and when you flinch against really good teams and players, they will capitalize."
The first half of action was full of ties and lead changes as neither team could outmatch the opponent. The Longhorns took the early lead at 6-2, but Arkansas responded with an 8-0 run over 40 seconds to make the score 10-6. The Razorbacks took their first lead on a strong three-point play by Marshawn Powell who took the ball to the basket and drew the foul. On the ensuing play, the Razorbacks grabbed a defensive rebound and Clarke buried a three to complete the run.
Texas would take its biggest lead of the half with 2:30 left, but Arkansas came storming back on a tough fade away jumper by Clarke and a three-pointer by Fortson three pointer to tie the contest for the eighth time at 46 with just under two minutes to play in the half. The first half would end with the score tied at 48, just the fourth time that Texas has been tied or behind at the half this season.
The Longhorns came out with an edge in the final 20 minutes and hit many of their shots to build a game high nine-point lead near the first media timeout. Texas scored the first seven points of the period and were on a 15-4 run over the first four-and-a-half minutes before the Razorbacks rebounded with five of the next seven points. Arkansas’ formula to work their way back was to take the ball inside and draw fouls while Texas used a long-range approach to build the lead.
A three-point basket by Powell just under the 10 minute marker brought the crowd to a frenzy and took the Texas lead down to four. Clarke cut into that lead after taking the ball strong to the basket, drawing a foul and hitting both his free throw to make it a 72-70 game with eight minutes to play.
Texas would again build a lead, this time up to 10 five minutes left on the heels of a 12-4 run over 2:47. Arkansas would continue to battle and take the Texas lead back to three with three minutes to play on a Mike Washington layup and Clarke three-pointer, his fourth of the game. A steal by the Razorbacks on the defensive end led to another potential scoring play which Arkansas was able to convert one free throw to make it a two-point contest as the clock ticked down.
A pair of quick baskets by Texas forced the Razorbacks to foul over the final minute of play leading to the final outcome which was in no way indicative of the play.
Clarke led the Razorbacks with 21 points and was one of four Arkansas players to score in double figures. He was joined by Fortson who opened his 2009-10 season with 19 points, three rebounds and seven assists. Powell contributed 18 points and a team best six rebounds while Mike Washington had 14.
Texas was led by Dexter Pittman who grabbed eight offensive rebounds, 10 total and scored 21 points. Fellow senior Damion James added 20 points and nine rebounds over just 17 minutes. Gary Johnson (16) and Avery Bradley (12) were the other Longhorns to score double digits.
The Razorbacks get another break from the hardwood before starting Southeastern Conference play on Jan. 14 at Mississippi State. For more information regarding Razorback men’s basketball or University of Arkansas athletics, please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.