It was an unbelievable start to the 2009-10 Razorback men’s basketball season at Bud Walton Arena on Nov. 13. Not only did the Razorbacks blow out the Alcorn St. Braves, 130-68, and set a Bud Walton Arena record with 71 points in the first half, but sophomore shooting guard Rotnei Clarke had a night for the ages as he poured in a school record 51 points. Clarke would set two Arkansas, one Southeastern Conference and four Bud Walton Arena records by himself in the game that saw his line read 15-21 from the field, 13-17 from three-point range, 8-9 from the free throw line, two rebounds, five assists, two turnovers, two steals, 34 minutes and 51 points.
Clarke’s 51 points eclipsed the 36-year-old school scoring record of Martin Terry (47 in 1973) and his 13 three-point baskets broke Al Dillard’s (12 in 1993) Arkansas and Southeastern Conference 16-year-old records for threes in a game. Clarke’s Walton Arena records included points by a Razorback (Al Dillard, 39, 1993), points by any player (Jodie Meeks, Kentucky, 45, 2009), field goals made (Al Dillard, 12, 1993) and three-point baskets made (Al Dillard, 12, 1993).
“Phenomenal, unbelievable,” Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey would say after the Alcorn St. game. “I wasn’t surprised to see him shoot the ball like that. He is capable of making the shots, but his teammates need to get him the ball. They were able to do that and understand where he was going to be. I haven’t seen a better performance than that.”
While Clarke’s exploits on the court against Alcorn St. will stand the test of time when recalled by historians, research into how it stacks up in Arkansas history was quite telling. Clarke produced the 105th 30-point effort in school history, the 10th 40-point game and the first 50-point contest. He is just the seventh Razorback to score 40 points or more in a game and joins the likes of Martin Terry, Dean Tolson, Todd Day, Joe Kleine and Ricky Sugg on that exclusive list. Other Razorbacks that never scored 40 points in a game include Sydney Moncreif, Lee Mayberry, Scotty Thurman, Marvin Delph, Ron Brewer, Ronnie Brewer, Joe Johnson and Corliss Williamson.
Nearly lost among Clarke’s unforgettable night was the performance of the Razorbacks as a whole who took eight players to the floor in the season opener and had four score in double digits with two recording their first career double-doubles. Jemal Farmer had a fantastic Arkansas debut as he scored 28 points and grabbed a game high 12 rebounds.
“I spoke to Jemal after we broke our huddle and told him that he played an unbelievable game,” Pelphrey told the media at his post-game press conference. “Too bad your teammate scored 51.”
Freshman Marshawn Powell notched his first career double-double in the contest with 17 points and 11 rebounds in just 29 minutes while senior All-SEC center/forward Mike Washington battled early foul trouble to score 14 points. Along with the scorers, freshman point guard Julysses Nobles had a solid game for the Hogs with eight points, three rebounds, nine assists, two turnovers and five steals.
Coming into the 2009-10 season, the Razorbacks were picked fifth in the SEC West by the media despite returning five starters from last year. Unfortunately due to injury and other circumstances, only two of the five were able to play in the season opener, but their returns will only make Arkansas a better team. Six returning players were joined by seven newcomers to form this seasons roster and a look at the roster immediately shows fans that there is more depth in the front court with the additions of 6-7 freshman Glenn Bryant, 6-9 junior Delvon Johnson and Powell. The return of 6-8 sophomore Michael Sanchez from plantar fasciitis could bolster Arkansas’ lineup even more making them very deep as Washington anchors the club.
Arkansas’ guard play benefitted from the addition of Nobles to a lineup that already included Clarke, Courtney Fortson, Marcus Britt, Stef Welsh and Stephen Cox. Nobles is a tough defender and showed an affinity for making good passes in the season opener. Clarke’s ability to shoot should stretch opposing defenses giving players like Fortson lanes to drive to the basket and Arkansas front court players room to move.
On the agenda for the Razorback fans in 2009-10 is a schedule of at least 25 games on television this season. It began on Nov. 17 when the Razorbacks took on Louisville and continues on Nov. 27 against East Tennessee St. Both national and regional networks are set to air the Razorbacks with at least six games on the ESPN family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU), six games on the Razorback Sports Network, one game on Fox Sports Net, three games on Comcast Sports Southeast and nine games on the SEC Network.
Arkansas’ 2009-10 schedule is full of ranked opponents and potential pitfalls. The Hogs first ranked team comes in the form of Louisville with other high ranking opponents like Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee littered throughout the winter.