Despite a night where the first three shots the University of Arkansas hit were from beyond 3-point range, it was an inside guy that left the biggest impression.
Razorback freshman center Darian Townes had by far his best night on the college stage by tossing in a career-high 20 points, blocking 2 shots and altering many others in his team's 96-68 win over a shot-happy Tennessee State squad before 14,358 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
It was a pleasure to watch for Arkansas head coach Stan Heath on the day before his 40th birthday and he took his players - who had taken nine days off for finals - into the stands to celebrate afterwards.
"It's tough coming out of finals and as a coach you don't know where your team exactly is," Heath said. "I am really proud of the guys. I thought they were ready to play and they were focused. They did not take Tennessee State slightly."
The 6-10, 253-pound Townes was 10-of-13 from the floor - two of his misses were on dunks - while bringing out a variety of post moves on a night when the Razorbacks (7-1) shot 54.7 percent from the floor and never trailed.
"It made me feel real good to score my first 20 points on the college level," Townes said. "It's hard work. It's shocking, but I hope it happens more. Everything was just working for me tonight."
UA freshman power forward Charles Thomas added 15 points, Ronnie Brewer 13 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists while Olu Famutimi chipped in 9 points and a team-high 7 rebounds and Rashard Sullivan and Jonathon "Pookie" Modica had 8 points each.
Inside guys Townes, Thomas, Sullivan and 7-0, 233-pound freshman Steven Hill combined for 43 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks.
Eric Ferguson added eight assists and Dontell Jefferson six meaning they combined with Brewer for 20 assists to just 6 turnovers for the trio.
"That is great production out of your inside," Heath said. "And then you have three guys that primarily handle the ball...that's a great job of guys sharing the ball with 20 assists between those three guys."
Arkansas freshman football star Marcus Monk also saw his first basketball action of the year and scored 5 points in 7 minutes - including a dunk with seconds left that capped the scoring.
"He responded well," Heath said. "He's a natural on the defensive end and pretty much a natural at having a feel for where he should be and what he should do."
Monk said he is working himself into basketball shape, which is a far different animal than football shape.
"It was different and I knew it would be," Monk said. "Once you get out there you've got that adrenilene, but then you get out of breath. It's just going to take time to get in basketball shape but I am just glad I had enough left in me to go up for that dunk."
Rod Flowers, a senior transfer from Cincinnati, had is sixth double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead Tennessee State (5-5), who also got 14 points from Georgia transfer Wayne Arnold and 13 from Roushan Bowens.
The Tigers shot just 36.5 percent and were outrebounded by the Razorbacks 45-36.
"We just fell apart," Tennessee State head coach Cy Alexander said. "We missed too many easy shots. You can't beat a team like Arkansas when you don't take advantage of opportunities.
It was the first game the Razorbacks had played since a Dec. 7 win at Missouri and was the first of six straight Arkansas home games - four in eight days - before conference play begins.
Arkansas shot 56.3 percent in the first half with Townes pacing the way with 12 of his points - six of which came on a mini -spree that he capped with a rim-rattling dunk with 3:08 left in the opening half.
The Razorbacks, whose largest lead of the first half was 13, took a 47-39 lead to intermission and then got themselves a comfortable working margin and never looked back from that point on.
After a first half where they didn't rebound as well as they are capable of, the Razorbacks got the first 11 rebounds of the second half.
"I know this - the second half we did a great job of crashing the offensive glass and finishing up some misses," Heath said.
"I thought we made some progress today, got the win and had some fun with our fans in the stands," Heath said.
Arkansas 96, Tennessee State 68
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