FAYETTEVILLE - Marshawn Powell is on the comeback trail, but it appears Delvon Johnson is already there.
Arkansas rode Johnson's long, strong 6-10 frame to a 75-60 victory over Troy in its best performance of the young season before 5,455 at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday. Johnson scored 20 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots.
Troy sprinted to a 27-21 lead after the first nine minutes, but gave way to Johnson's tough inside play when its inside strength had to go to the bench with foul trouble.
Johnson had a layup in the middle of a 8-0 run early in the second half as the Hogs took command, 58-40, at the 14:10 mark. The Trojans cut it to 60-53 with 8:33 to play, but were never closer.
Rotnei Clarke added 16 points with three assists, but was only 4 of 11 on 3-point attempts. He added three assists and two steals.
Jeff Peterson, Julysses Nobles and Powell scored 8 points each.
The Hogs improved to 5-1 with their second straight victory. Troy is 1-6, losing its third game to SEC West competition. The Hogs play only once in the next 11 days, Wednesday against Seton Hall in the SEC-Big East Challenge on a neutral site in Louisville, Ky.
It was Powell's play in the final three minutes that helped the Hogs close the door. He hit two foul shots on a run out that drew a foul, then chased down a loose ball for one of his two steals on the next Troy possession.
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey was excited about the play of his best two inside threats in the post-game interviews.
"I didn't know what improvement Delvon would make this year, but he's worked hard and I'm excited to see him take advantage of his opportunity," Pelphrey said. "He had to trust me last year when he wasn't getting a lot of minutes or he was going into and out of the games sometimes in a hurry.
"But he changed his body and I appreciate he's handled the situation."
"Marshawn had a tremendous practice yesterday. He was in early today. I don't think he's too far away. He hit a couple of jump shots and it was good to see him get out on the run out. He can do that. He's done it in practice, but then he can't go the next day. You'd see it sometimes in practice, but then it would frustrate him when he didn't have it the next day.
"Hopefully, he's really close. If he can push himself in practice the next two weeks, he might get there."
Powell has been recovering from a broken foot sustained in the summer. He changed shoes for the Troy game and seemed to find some new energy.
"My foot has felt a lot better lately," he said. "It's been a day-to-day thing. But it is getting better. I wore some different shoes, some Nike Air Jordans. They felt good.
"This has been very challenging. It was tough not to be able to play the way I've always played. It feels good to be getting back to that point where I can help."
Johnson said his big first half was just a matter of wanting to help the team.
"We were down and my team needed me," Johnson said. "All I was trying to do is help my team. It feels good, though. Everyone wants to put up numbers like that.
"I've just got more confidence and my coach trusts me. It's my last year. I'm a senior. I just want to do everything I can."
The Hogs had trouble stopping penetration and second-chance points in the first 10 minutes, but they solved the Trojans on both ends as the half progressed.
"We had our big men in foul trouble and we aren't real deep there," Troy coach Don Maestri said. "I sat some guys on the bench and it almost got away from us at the end of the half. We were right there then down 12 pretty quick. That was probably a mistake on my part.
"We've played a couple of SEC West teams (in Alabama and Mississippi State) and I know what they have at some of the other schools in that division. Arkansas is going to compete with those teams for the title. They are going to be right there.
"I think what we've seen this year of Johnson tells you that he's going to be pretty good in the SEC West. He has improved. And they've had some injuries and they are getting some guys back now.
"You see them winning and getting some chemistry, sometimes that's all it takes. They are athletic and they have plenty of guards. I like this Arkansas team. All it's going to take for them is just a little more chemistry."
The Hogs had trouble with the Troy zone in the second half.
"I think we were lucky," Maestri said. "They got Clarke some really good looks and he didn't make them. That was lucky on our part. I'm sure they liked the shots he got.
"To be honest, I thought we competed and scrapped and got back in it. I was proud of them for that. Clarke hits a couple of those shots he got middle of the second half, they would have blown it up. So we were fortunate."
Pelphrey said the zone offense wasn't perfect, either.
"Our big men could have screened for themselves, posted up a little better and sealed when we rotated and made themselves available a little stronger," he said. "So we have some things to work on there.
"It was a good performance by Jeff Peterson. I liked the 7-to-1 assist to turnovers and I liked his six rebounds. That's pretty good there."
What he really liked was the big difference from the foul line. The Hogs canned 23 of 28 on free throws. Troy was just 2 of 6. Vernon Taylor, Troy's top scorer with 19, converted just 1 of 4 from the charity stripe.
"We kept them off the line and we did a good job of getting ourselves on the line," Pelphrey said. "That's two games in a row where we did pretty good there.
"I liked that and I liked our rebounding. They have competed well on the rebounding."
The Hogs won the rebounding, 41-37. They were outstanding with their defensive rebounding.
"Troy has averaged 13 offensive rebounds, we held them to nine," Pelphrey said. "That's where Delvon really helped us. He's kept himself out of foul trouble. To be honest, we don't have a lot of inside depth and for him to stay on the court really has helped us.
"We want to play good defense without fouling. That's our goal. We've been good there the last couple of games.
"Our goal was to win the two games this week and we did that. But I just told the team that there are a lot more weeks to go in this season and a lot more goals."
Delvon Johnson powers to the rim.
Delvon Johnson puts in a layup.
Jeff Peterson converts on a baseline drive.
Julysses Nobles makes contact for a charging foul.
Marshawn Powell slides his feet on a defensive play.
Marshawn Powell was fouled by Levan Patsatsia on a breakaway play.
Photos by Marc F. Hennning, Hawgs Illustrated