B.J. Young had 23 points and Hunter Mickelson added 14 of his career-high 16 points in the second half as Arkansas downed Robert Morris 79-74 Thursday night before a crowd of 7,013 at Bud Walton Arena.
Mardracus Wade added 14 points and Marshawn Powell 12 points and a team-high 9 rebounds for the Razorbacks (6-4), who led an 11-point lead slip to three late before regrouping and ending the Colonials' five-game winning streak.
"I thought it was a real gut-check for our basketball team against a very solid Robert Morris team," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "A very good team that came in hot in terms of shooting the basketball and do a lot of things defensively to really pack their defense so you really have to figure out where you can take advantage of what they are presenting."
"At times we did a great job of getting the ball in to Marshawn and I thought Hunter in the second half was very active -- moving and cutting to the basket and going to the offensive glass," Anderson said.
Robert Morris head coach Andrew Toole – whose team had won home games against Ohio, Campbell, Hampton and Duquense and added a road victory at Louisiana-Lafayette during the stretch, was understandably upset his team couldn't pull out the win.
"I thought we competed well, but down the stretch it seemed like Arkansas made one or two more plays, grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds and made a couple of bigger, faster, stronger plays toward the end," Toole said.
The Colonials, who were in the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and 2010, have three starters back from a team that won 26 games last season, were one win away from being in the Big Dance again and ended up winning two games in the CIT.
Coron Williams and Karvel Anderson – two of those returning starters - both had 17 points for Robert Morris, but leading scorer Velton Jones was held to four in a foul-plagued 17 minutes of action.
Toole thought his team had a chance to pull off an upset, as it almost did back in 2010 when it was a 15th-seed and nearly eliminated second seed Villanova in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I think when they (the Razorbacks) are completely engaged, they are going to be a really talented team," Toole said. "There were parts of the game tonight where they weren't entirely engaged. We don't have the name recognition of good teams.
"We spoke about how Coach Anderson and his staff had really been trying to hammer home the fact that Robert Morris has had success the last five or six years as a program. Unfortunately because they are more talented than we are, they were able to kind of turn it on and turn it off. I think if they can get all 40 minutes put together they have a chance to be a really good team."
He did not think his team lost its legs late.
"No, I think we lost our brains, we lost our minds a little bit," Toole said. "There were times when we needed to stay poised and together as a team and we had a couple of guys try to make individual plays that you just can't against a team like Arkansas."
As most coaches are right before Christmas, Anderson was wary of how his team would play in this game and Saturday night in North Little Rock against Alabama A&M.
His team led by as much as 69-58 with 11:58 left only to see that advantage dwindle to 71-68 with 2:50 left on a pair of free throws by Lucky Jones.
"I was afraid of this game for a lot of reasons," Anderson said. "One of them was a lot of times guys check out when you have the holidays coming up. But we have basketball games and Robert Morris is a well-coached team that has some senior guards, some that are fifth-year seniors.
"They wouldn't go away," Anderson added. "…With a team like that you have to put them away."
A couple of free throws by Young sandwiched around Powell's dunk and then Young's rebound basket off of missed lay-up gave the home team a 77-69 lead with 18 seconds left.
"I saw some guys grow up in front of our eyes when they cut the lead to three," Anderson said. "Our guys didn't panic. They came out and made plays. Started making plays and getting the ball to the right people."
Anderson was not happy about his team being just 13-of-26 from the line while Robert Morris – which shot 36.4 percent from the field – marched to the line often while making 25-of-36 charity tosses.
"They actually made more free throws than we shot," Anderson said. "So that's a negative for us.
"I thought defensively we did a lot of good things finding their shooters and making them take tough shots," Anderson said, "but if you make your free throws it is a different game. A double figure game."
Young had five rebounds and five assists, but also had six of his team's 14 turnovers.
"He played a lot of minutes tonight (34) and sometimes when you play a lot of minutes – especially with what we are doing – your decision-making kind of goes a little to the wayside and you just play," Anderson said. "I thought he was guilty of that.
"But he'll learn from it," Anderson said. "He's a sophomore and that's what sophomores do."
Mickelson, who also had four rebounds and two blocks, was indeed very active in the second half as he topped his previous career high of 13 points against Texas Southern last season.
"I thought in the second half he was more active and moving and our guys did a good job of getting him the ball," Anderson said. "He also got a couple of offensive rebound stick backs. So to me he continues to evolve. His presence is known out there on the defensive side of the ball as well."
Wade, who was 4-of-7 on field goals and knocked down his first two 3-point attempts, had 10 points in the first half, which ended with the Razorbacks up 35-34.
"He knocked a couple of shots down, but more than that defensive he had the assignment of guarding the Anderson kid or the Williams kid and they have been shooting it really well."
Arkansas got 18 minutes each from the former Fayetteville High guard combo of Fred Gulley and Kikko Haydar – who split time at point guard during crunch time.
Haydar had five points and three rebounds while Gulley was scoreless but had a solid floor game in just his second game of the year after becoming eligible.
"I thought he (Gulley) did a good job and our guys trusted him with the ball and he got the ball to the right people," Anderson said. "That is what you want. Everybody has a role and I think he understands that. That goes back to the basketball IQ and plus he has played at this level of couple of times and he didn't get rattled.
"For a guy to come in and play a team that is playing well like Robert Morris was, I thought Fred did a very good job," Anderson added.
Arkansas' Hunter Mickelson tries to block the shot of Robert Morris' Mike McFadden Thursday night as Razorback Marshawn Powell trails the play.