FAYETTEVILLE — In a game junior guard Rotnei Clarke dubbed a must-win, Arkansas sure took a strange route to a Tuesday night SEC victory.
The Razorbacks played a listless first half against the league's only winless team, a powerful start to the second half while Auburn was missing its first 23 shots and a finish where it nearly let up off the gas pedal too early.
Clarke and Julysess Nobles both had 16 points and Marshawn Powell added a double-double with 13 points and a season-high 11 rebounds as Arkansas beat Auburn 73-64.
"It was very important (to win), especially after our last time out," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said of a 75-43 hammering at Florida. "We didn't play very well and being able to come back home – and you desperately want to defend your home."
Nobles also had eight rebounds and was 10-for-10 from the free throw line – including all eight he shot for Arkansas (13-6, 3-3 SEC) in the final 2:05 of the game.
"I had to make them," Nobles said. "That comes from working out in the gym every day and Coach making me hit 10 in a row before I leave."
Pelphrey, whose team is now 12-0 this season at home, was glad to see the player's hard work pay off.
"I think he did a good job making his free throws and may have been 10-of-10 all in the second half," Pelphrey said. "We needed every one of them and it was good to see him step up in that situation and cash them in."
Pelphrey was quick to point out a student crowd of 1,300-plus – the largest of the season - was a nice sight to see after two tough road losses last week.
"It was certainly good to be back home and I thought our student body tonight was amazing," Pelphrey said. "I thought it was really very, very cool. I certainly want to give a shout out to those guys and say thank you. They are very, very helpful."
Clarke had 10 of his points and Powell eight of his in the first half, which ended with Arkansas leading 34-30.
The Razorbacks' leading scorer had only five points at South Carolina and went scoreless at Florida, but got some opportunities early and converted.
"I thought it was a number of things," Pelphrey said. "I thought he did a better job tonight of really tight curling off some screens, he was very, very focused on doing a good job of moving without the ball, I thought we did a good job of getting him the ball and I thought he did some good things in transition."
The Razorbacks then raced away as Powell jump-started his team with the half's first five points.
By the time Arkansas senior Marcus Britt buried a 3-pointer with 9:08, the Razorbacks were up 55-31 and seemingly put it in cruise control from that point.
Auburn's only point during that time was a free throw from Earnest Ross at the 14:31 mark.
The Tigers did not have a made field goal from the time Kenny Gabriel dunked with 20 seconds left in the half until Tony Neysmith's bucket with 8:37 left in the game.
"We just kept fighting," said Auburn head coach Tony Barbee. "I told them that you can't get down just because the shots aren't going in. We had good looks in the first 10 minutes (of the second half). We got it to the rim, and I don't know how many layups we missed and some wide open jump shots. We pounded the ball into the post and couldn't get any production.
"I told the kids to keep fighting, keep fighting," Barbee added. "That team is going to have a letdown. It is a game of runs and our run is coming. We made our run, but we couldn't just get over the hump. We played well enough on the road. We just can't have these lapses."
To their credit the visitors did score the game's next 13 points to cut it to 55-44 with 5:33 remaining.
The Tigers closed within 64-57 with just more than two minutes left and twice got within six points in the final 70 seconds.
Part of that was because they got 15 of their 18 offensive rebounds in the second half.
"You just have to keep playing," Auburn's Adrian Forbes said. "It's a 20-minute half and you just have to keep playing and that's what guys did."
Forbes added the Tigers may be low on talent, but have another quality that has allowed them to stay within 10 points in their last three games against Florida, Alabama and Arkansas.
"It's frustrating, but you have got to have heart," Forbes said. "You have got to keep churning, be determined and fight through it."
Pelphrey was obviously dismayed at his team's failure to put Auburn away.
"I thought for 30 minutes we played really good defense and rebounded the ball really well, but the last eight or nine minutes – maybe it was six – we didn't do a very good job at all and our defense kind of collapsed.
"We gave up lay-ups that we hadn't given up all night," Pelphrey continued. "We have to keep playing. We were fortunate that we stepped up and made some free throws that gave us a little bit of a cushion."
Ross led Auburn with 15 points while Allen Payne had 13 and Adrian Forbes 11.
Arkansas will head out on the road on Saturday when it travels to Nashville to face Vanderbilt.
"A win is nice," Powell said. "But we've got to win on the road in order to be considered one of the best teams in this league, or even a good team."
The Razorbacks will get to enjoy a rare mid-week day off from basketball since they practiced on Sunday and thus must take an NCAA-mandated day off on Wednesday.
"We'll have a day off tomorrow – at least from basketball," Pelphrey said. "It will be the first time we have had a break in awhile. That's good as well.
"It's like somebody said to me the other day, the best thing you can do off a tough night the night before is to get back to work," Pelphrey added. "But sometimes the best thing you can when you need a break is to get a win and kind of focus on some other things before we get back to work on Thursday."
Delvon Johnson scored 10 points with five blocked shots.
Marshawn Powell scored 13 points and led the way with 11 rebounds.
Rotnei Clarke works free for a layup.
Powell goes on the floor for a loose ball.
Delvon Johnson works free in the lane.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated