Western Carolina 62, Arkansas 59

Catamounts send Razorbacks to second straight home loss with an upset win in overtime.

Because of Monday Night Football, there was no television coverage of Arkansas' pre-holiday college basketball game with Western Carolina at Bud Walton Arena.

The whole state should consider it an early Christmas gift that it was not forced to watch most of a game between two teams coming off 9-19 seasons that certainly didn't bring their A games to the event for the first 36 minutes.

The last four minutes of regulation and all five of overtime turned out to be thrilling – especially if you were a fan of the Catamounts.

"Our worst fears came true tonight," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "We worried Kevin Martin would carry the load for their team and he did."

Martin, a 6-7 junior who was leading the nation in scoring at 28 points per game entering the contest, had a game-high 33 in a remarkable 35-minute effort to lead Western Carolina over Arkansas 62-59 in overtime.

The Razorbacks (6-3), which rallied from seven points down with just over a minute left to force overtime, never led in the extra five minutes and missed four shots to tie in the final 15 seconds.

That finish and a woeful Arkansas offensive performance left Heath bitterly disappointed in his team, himself and his coaching staff and he did not mince words after the game.

"I was disappointed with the effort from the players and I will also say the coaches need to pick it up, too," Heath said. "We can't make lay-ups, free throws and I am not even talking about threes. The easy ones have to be converted."

Both teams had 20 turnovers and neither team shot well as Western Carolina hit just 36 percent of its field goals (18-of-50) and Arkansas 30 percent (21 of 70).

Arkansas was just 12 of 22 from the free throw line while the visitors hit 21 of 33.

"If you shoot 12-of-22 from the foul line, who are you going to beat?" Heath said. "You can't beat anybody shooting in the 50s from the line. We had at least seven or eight missed lay-ups. Guys, Little Sisters of the Poor are not on our schedule the rest of the way.

"We are trying to put the icing of the cake, but underneath is poundcake," Heath continued. "We are not tough-minded and the tough part of the schedule is ahead. We can't be like creampuffs."

Martin had just seven points at halftime before showing why he is considered an NBA prospect in both the second half and overtime.

"To let it go into overtime was heartbreaking," Martin said. "I didn't know if we could regroup because we were exhausted. In the first half I forced it. In the second half, I got it going and hit some shots and helped my team."

Ronnie Brewer had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Billy Pharis 10 to lead the Razorbacks, which clearly looked like they had their confidence shaken by a Saturday 73-58 home loss to Oklahoma State.

Jonathon "Pookie" Modica, Arkansas' leading scorer at over 20 points a game, was held to just four.

Rashard Sullivan, the Razorback's 6-8, 235-pound sophomore forward, had a career-high 12 rebounds to go along with three points and three blocks in the game.

Arkansas outrebounded its foe 51-38, but that was in part because the Razorbacks took 20 more shots than its foe and missed 17 of those extra attempts.

"We are having some terrible offensive woes because we can't seem to put the ball in the basket," Heath said. "We seem to be executing well at times, but we just can't finish. I'm not sure if its mental or its going to take hours of extra shots."

Brewer hit five of his last six free throws on the night after missing his first five to drop his total to 12-of-33 on the season.

But the freshman from Fayetteville was the only true offensive threat for the Razorbacks for most of the game.

Arkansas trailed 49-42 with 2:01 left on Martin's two free throws, but Charles Tatum's 3-pointer gave his team a chance and cut it to 49-45 with 1:13 remaining.

Kendrick Davis unloaded a 3-pointer that got it to within 51-49 with 47.1 seconds left and then Tatum and Jonathon Modica teamed in the backcourt for a steal.

That theft resulted in a Modica dunk that tied it 51-51 and sent it into overtime.

Arkansas never led in overtime and Martin delivered what proved to be the game-winner with a 3-point bomb that put his team up 61-57 with 1:13 remaining in overtime.

"I wanted to take it to the hole, but I was exhausted," Martin said. "I saw the defense had his hands down so I took the three."

Heath said sophomore Wenbos Mukubu, who was guarding Martin, knew what was coming and didn't come out of his defensive stance when Martin let fly.

"We have seen him take 27-footers on film and we know to get a hand up, but we didn't," Heath said.

It was the 13th time in Martin's career that he has scored over 30 points with a high of 44 coming against Georgia in a loss earlier this season.

"He's a great player," Mukubu said. "I have guarded some good players, but no one like him. He's the best offensive player I've played.

"The 3-pointer he took in overtime was 25 or 26 feet," Mukubu added. "I thought he was tired. I was just trying to stay in front of him and not gamble."

Mukubu admits he misjudged Martin.

"I looked at him and he was so skinny," Mukubu said. "I thought I'd bang on him and talk some noise. But he's a tough, tough kid, just so tough-minded."

The Catamounts, whose one and only postseason trip ended with them losing in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament, celebrated wildly at the end of the game.

"I can't say enough about the character of this team," noted Western Carolina head coach Steve Shurina, a former St. John's player. "They were able to reach down and find a way to win in a hostile environment like this."

The dismayed Heath said his team was obviously very low right now.

"There is a lot of disappointment in that locker room," Heath said. "I feel terrible for our fans and our team. This is not how we expect to play. I appreciate every fan that came tonight and hope they will hang with us."

Arkansas will return to action on Tuesday, Dec. 30 when it travels to play Tulsa.


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