But with the Razorbacks' leading scorer suspended for the regular season opener, the nation's second-leading juco rebounder last season amped up his scoring on Friday night.
Clarke had 20 points, Marshawn Powell 14 and Hunter Mickelson 11 as Arkansas opened its season with a 73-68 win over Sam Houston State before an announced crowd of 7,450 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"I felt good coming out and I knew I was coming off the bench so I got to see what the other team was doing," said Clarke, who was 5-of-8 from the field and 10-12 from the free throw line. "I just had to play my role and do my part."
It was a far cry from the Razorbacks' two exhibition games in which they overwhelmed Southwest (MO) Baptist (106-78) and LeMoyne-Owen (111-45).
They played without All-SEC first team pick B.J. Young, a sophomore guard who was serving the second of his two-game suspension for violation of team rules.
"We are happy to get the win more than anything else," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "As a staff, you always wondered how your team is going to come out in that first real, real game and understanding the intensity and what takes place. The serious nature of what takes place.
"I think our young basketball team got a chance to see a team come in here that had nothing to lose and everything to gain," Anderson added. "I'll give Sam Houston State credit. They came in with that mindset and just played real loose and aggressive and attacking the glass on our basketball team."
Indeed the visitors outrebounded the hosts 18-12 in the first half and 36-23 for the game.
"It was just want to," Anderson said. "I thought they wanted it more. I thought they took the fight to our guys. That is something we are certainly going to work on. We are a much, much better rebounding team than that…They just out-scraped us."
Freshman forward Michael Qualls, Mardracus Wade and Rashad Madden all added eight points each and Qualls had four of his team's nine blocks on the night.
"There are some things we have to continue to work on," Anderson said. "We have a lot of improvement to make…"I just think we have got to come with much, much more intensity as we continue to play this schedule."
Sam Houston State coach Jason Horton, who returned a veteran backcourt from a 13-18 squad last season and added seven new players, made it clear getting close was not what his team came to do on Friday night.
"That is definitely not anything like a moral victory," Horton said. "We came here on a bus for eight hours to win a basketball game. We didn't get it done tonight."
Senior guard Darius Gatson led Sam Houston State with 20 points while newcomer James Thomas added 14 points and 8 rebounds and junior guard DeMarcus Gatlin 10 points.
"I was happy with our effort, which is something I think that they will always do because they do it every day in practice," Horton said. "I was told by an old coach a long time ago that if you can get your team to play hard all the time then you have a chance. That is what we try to do at Sam Houston State – play hard and get after it every day."
Powell played his first real game in over a year and was 4-of-8 from the field, knocked down 2-of-4 3-pointers and also was 4-of-5 from the free throw line while having a team-high five rebounds.
"It was good to see Marshawn out there and especially down the stretch," Anderson said. "He was involved in a lot of plays…I think Marshawn can be a calming force for this basketball team."
Powell, who hit the deck a couple of times in his first regular season game since game two of last season, noted that he was happy to finally play a real game.
"It felt weird to be honest," Powell said. "I haven't played a real game that counted for something in I don't know how many months. It felt good."
With Clarke leading the way, Arkansas' bench outscored Sam Houston State 32-12.
"Coty Clarke came off the bench and gave us some quality minutes," Anderson said. "Our bench is going to be the strength of this basketball team."
Arkansas led by 13 in first half and took an 11-point lead in the second half when Qualls roared down the baseline for a slam to make it 68-57 at the 3:44 mark.
But Sam Houston State – picked to finish eighth in the Sun Belt this season – refused to go away and cut it to 70-66 on Jeremy McKay's 3-pointer with just under a minute left.
"A couple of times we lost shooters going down the stretch when we were up 10 with two-and-a-half minutes to go," Anderson said. "That is the time when you really kind of finishing up the game. They got some penetration and our guys bit and left a 3-point shooter wide open. Credit to them, they knocked them down when they had to."
The Razorbacks shot just 43.1 percent from the field (22-of-51) and hit only 3-of-13 3-pointers, but did connect on 26 of its 32 free throw attempts.
That included a stretch of 19 in a row at one point.
"They dictated tempo and I think you saw that," Anderson said. "But I think we were able to get to the free throw line and took advantage of that."
The Razorbacks also forced 19 turnovers from the Bearkats while coughing it up only nine times.
"I really felt coming into the game that if we had 15 or less that we could win the basketball game," Horton said.
Arkansas does not return to action until Sunday, Nov. 18 at 3 p.m. when it hosts Longwood, a Division I team from the Big South Conference.
That will start a run of five games in 12 days, concluding with a home game against Syracuse on Nov. 30.
Young should be back for those games.
"It is going to give us a team boost," Clarke said. "It will be good because he is one of our guys, one of our brothers. He did what he had to do, he served his time and hopefully he''ll be back the next game."
Michael Qualls gets Arkansas' only dunk of the night as Marshawn Powell (33) and Mardracus Wade (1) look on.
Rashard Madden loops a pass to the other side of the court.
Coty Clarke gets two of his 20 points.
Freshman Dee Wagner had three assists in the contest.
Arkansas coaches T.J Cleveland, Mike Anderson and Melvin Watkins.