Arkansas 73, Sam Houston State 68: Well, Okay.

Wesley Hitt

We'll just keep telling ourselves it was the first game, and we'll leave it at that.

It wasn't pretty. Arkansas never held a lead that stretched very far into the double digits. BJ Young didn't play. The Hogs won't get any extra votes in the next poll, but it will suffice for the first game.

It was the first game for several newcomers, many of which played significant minutes. And, frankly, Arkansas probably would not have won without them. Coty Clarke led the team with 20 points and added four rebounds. With four minutes to go, Michael Qualls blew past his defender and ran the baseline for a one-handed slam that turned out to be the period at the end of the game. Qualls scored 8 total points and 2 rebounds. Anthlon Bell and Jacorey Williams pitched in another four points.

It's a credit to the team's depth that nobody on the team played more than 28 minutes, and only Marshawn Powell hit that mark. Powell scored 14 points and led the team with 5 rebounds. It will help the team later in the year that nobody has to play more than 28 minutes in games like this. Considering BJ Young will be playing in the next game and the minutes will be divided further, that's an encouraging sign.

The biggest warning sign? Rickey Scott did not score. Mardracus Wade scored 8 points, all coming from the free throw line. Combined, they only attempted five field goals. They each played 23 minutes. Those two players have to be more aggressive. Arkansas struggled to score on offense much of the night, and only attempting 5 field goals from the two juniors in the backcourt is not going to cut it going foward. In particular, Wade established himself as one of the SEC's top shooters last year. That's the Wade that needs to emerge if Arkansas is to achieve its goals this year.

It wasn't as easy a victory as fans expected, but there is reason for optimism going forward. It's easy to identify things to improve, and they can be improved.

Here is the press release from UA.

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Led by Coty Clarke’s 20 points, the University of Arkansas basketball team picked up its 18th consecutive season opening win on Friday night as the Razorbacks defeated Sam Houston State, 73-68, at Bud Walton Arena.

The win improves Head Coach Mike Anderson to 11-0 all-time in season openers as a head coach.

“We are happy to get the win today,” Anderson said. “As a coach you’re always wondering how your team is going to come out and play in the first game of the season.”

Leading the Razorbacks on the court was Clarke, who notched 20 points and four boards in the victory. Clarke picked up 10 of his 20 points from the free-throw line as the Birmingham, Ala., native went 10-of-12 from the line. Two other Razorbacks scored in double-figures as sophomore Hunter Mickelson tallied 11 points and junior Marshawn Powell netted 14.

As a team, the Razorbacks recorded nine steals and eight blocks en route to the win. Despite being out-rebounded the Razorbacks pulled away after picking up 20 points off turnovers, forcing 19 along the way. The Razorback bench also came up big, scoring 32 points.

“Our bench is going to be the strength of this basketball team,” Anderson said.

In the first half the Razorbacks battled constantly with the Bearkats trading baskets throughout much of the first. However the Razorbacks would take the lead at the 11:39 mark in the first half and hold it for the remainder of the contest. Despite holding the lead throughout much of the game the contest was still neck-and-neck. A staunch offensive and defensive effort allowed the Hogs to go on a 19-8 run pulling away from Sam Houston State, 29-18 with 6:40 remaining in the first.

The Razorbacks would grow their 11-point lead to 13 as freshman Anthlon Bell knocked down a long two-point basket that was nothing but net with 3:05 remaining in the first to put the Razorbacks up 33-20. The 13-point lead was the largest Razorback lead of the game.

Shortly thereafter the Bearkats would begin to close the gap, coming within four, after knocking down three consecutive three-point baskets to make the score 33-29. The Razorbacks answered the Bearkat rally with layups by freshman Jacorey Williams and Mickelson to close the half with Arkansas up by eight over Sam Houston State, 37-29.
Mickelson had a big first half with nine points and two rebounds. Clarke also came up with nine points in the opening 20 minutes with one rebound.

The Razorbacks forced 11 Bearkat turnovers, while committing just four of their own. The Razorbacks capitalized on the 11 Bearkat turnovers in the first, scoring 17 points.

In the second half the Bearkats slowly chipped away at the Arkansas lead. After draining a three-pointer Sam Houston State came as close as three points away with the score 46-43. Qualls would hit a long jumper to give the Hogs a small cushion and put them up five with 12:02 remaining in the second.

A series of fouls would prove costly for the Bearkats as Wade went to the line three consecutive times, knocking down six free-throws to put Arkansas up 57-47 with 8:45 left in the second. Shortly afterward Clarke would head to the line for Arkansas, netting both of his shots to make the score 59-50.

The contest went down to the wire after Sam Houston State netted a three-pointer with 51 seconds on the clock to come within four of the Razorbacks with the score 70-66. The Razorbacks would play keep away from the Bearkats to try and run out the clock. With the clock winding down the Bearkats were forced to commit fouls, but the Razorbacks would just extend the lead and hold on for the victory with a final score of 73-68.

The Razorbacks will return to the court on Nov. 18 as they face Longwood at 3 p.m. inside Bud Walton Arena.

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