The Hogs had their hands full in their season opener after feasting on two exhibition cupcakes.
Mardracus Wade had eight points, all from the free-throw line, Friday night.
Free-throw shooting was good. Rebounding was bad. And Sam Houston State came to play.
But the Razorbacks did just enough down the stretch for the victory, winning 73-68 Friday night in front of an estimated crowd of 7,450 at Bud Walton Arena.
“We’re happy to get the win more than anything else,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “As a coach and as a staff, you always wonder how your team is going to come out that first real, real game and understanding the intensity and what takes place, the serious nature that takes place.”
The battling Bearkats helped the young Hogs understand that.
Arkansas went on a 15-2 run midway through the first half, overcoming a two-point deficit and taking an 11-point lead. The Razorbacks never trailed after that, but Sam Houston State kept it close.
Free-throw shooting and bench play proved to be the difference on a night when Arkansas was outrebounded 36-23.
The Razorbacks, who got 32 points from their bench, hit 26 of 32 shots from the free-throw line. Sam Houston State was 4 of 6 from the line.
Junior forward Coty Clarke led the Hogs with 20 points off the bench, and that included a 10-of-12 performance from the line. Junior forward Marshawn Powell, playing in his first real game since tearing up his knee in November 2011, added 15 points and had a team-high five rebounds.
“Man, it felt weird, to be honest,” Powell said. I ain’t played a real, real official game that counted for something in I don’t know how many months. It felt good, though.”
True freshman guard Michael Qualls scored eight points, including an impressive dunk on a baseline move that put the Razorbacks up 68-57.
The crowd got fired up from that play, when Qualls just beat a man off the dribble and slammed it through with one hand, and Sam Houston State could have folded then. But the Bearkats hit two free throws, a jumper and then a three-pointer by Jeremy McKay to cut it to 70-66 with 51 seconds left.
However, they missed two three-pointers in the final 30 seconds, and Clarke and Powell went a combined 3 of 6 from the free-throw line during the final 40 seconds.
“We were able to make plays, and I think we can build off that,” Anderson said.
The Hogs played without All-SEC sophomore guard B.J. Young, who was serving the second game of a two-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
There didn’t seem to be any problems without him in Arkansas' exhibition game Monday night when the Hogs hammered Division II LeMoyne-Owen 111-45.
But Southland Conference member Sam Houston State was a different story.
Bearkats Coach Jason Hooten said his team didn’t get a moral victory Friday.
Because of solid half-court defense, Hooten said he felt that his team could win if it kept the turnovers to fewer than 15. Instead, the Bearkats ended up with 19 turnovers, leading to 20 Arkansas points.
“We came up here on a bus for eight hours to win a basketball game and didn’t get it done tonight,” he said. “I was happy with our effort, which I think this is something this team will always do.
“We’ve got seven new guys on the floor tonight. Showed some nerves at times. I thought when they nade that 13-2 run in the first half we were jittery and had some turnovers that led to easy baskets for them.”
Anderson, when asked about the rebounding differential, said Sam Houston State showed more “want-to” than Arkansas.
“They wanted it more. I think they just took the fight to our guys,” Anderson said. “And that’s something we’re certainly going to work on. We’re a much, much better rebounding team than that. The first game, you never know how your guys are going to come out of the gates. I thought we prepared well, but in the end, you saw how we came out. But we’ll get better. I think we’ll get better than that.”
Arkansas has nine days to work on its mistakes before it plays again. The Razorbacks’ next game is Nov. 18 against Big South Conference member Longwood in the Las Vegas Invitational.
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