For the first time all night, freshman center Darian Townes looked a little confused after scoring a career-high 20 points.
The Razorbacks (7-1) started a new tradition by rocking with the student section after a game, partying like they scored 99 in their 96-68 blowout of Tennessee State (5-5) before a crowd of 14,358 on Thursday night in Bud Walton Arena.
The 96 points tied the highest Arkansas total in coach Stan Heath's three seasons (96-61 against North Texas last season) and the Razorbacks' defense kicked in after halftime to turn a six-point lead into a rout.
Led by Townes and with 15 points from fellow freshman Charles Thomas, Arkansas scored 50 points in the paint and got 20 assists from guards Eric Ferguson (8, tying his career-high), Ronnie Brewer (6) and Dontell Jefferson (6).
In its first game after a nine-day break for final exams, Arkansas showed few signs of rust with 10 of 12 players scratching the scorebook.
The Razorbacks play Prairie View A&M on Saturday.
"I'm proud of the guys," Heath said. "They were ready to play, they were focused, they didn't take Tennessee State lightly.
"We made some progress today, got the win and had some fun with our fans in the stands."
The fun started early with three straight 3-pointers from Ferguson, Olu Famutimi and Thomas, followed by a three-point play from Brewer to take a 12-4 lead.
Arkansas led by as many as 13 in the first half, but the Razorbacks' recurring problems on the defensive glass allowed Tennessee State nine second-chance points off 12 offensive rebounds.
The Tigers trailed 47-39 at the half thanks to a buzzer-beating jumper from Ferguson, who made his first start of the season and dished out 7 of his 8 assists in the opening half.
While the Razorbacks' offense was clicking at a 56 percent shooting clip, the defense -- which had been forcing 19 turnovers per game -- got only two turnovers and one steal in the first half against a team averaging 20 giveaways per game.
"We were trying to do some things different coach Heath was teaching us," Brewer said. "That caused us some problems in the first half. We made some adjustments at halftime and stopped what they were doing and they shot a poor percentage."
Arkansas was outrebounded 20-19 by the smaller Tigers, leading Heath to speak in the strongest terms to his team at halftime.
The Razorbacks responded by grabbing the first 11 rebounds of the second half and owned a 26-16 edge in the final 20 minutes to win the battle on the glass 45-36.
"That was a matter of knowing there's a gun to your head if you don't rebound," Heath joked. "That was emphasized. It was very important to box out and finish defensive plays."
Arkansas scored just two points before the first media timeout and led 49-43 with 15 minutes, 41 seconds to play before outscoring the Tigers 47-25 down the stretch, keyed by 11 second-half Tennessee State turnovers.
"Once we got back in the rhythm of the game, we started rebounding better, we forced more turnovers, we were more active defensively," Heath said. "I thought we played a whole lot better in the second half."
Tennessee State was led by senior Rod Flowers' sixth straight double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds), but the Tigers shot just 27 of 74 from the field (36.4 percent) and 4 of 23 from the 3-point line.
"We just fell apart," said Tigers coach Cy Alexander. "We missed too many easy shots. You can't beat a team like Arkansas when you don't take advantage of opportunities. Our shooters didn't shoot well and our top three outside scorers didn't make their shots.
"Arkansas has a chance to be good. They are athletic and have good size. They will do well in the SEC."
Arkansas started breaking the game open late in the first half following consecutive hustle plays from Ferguson. He nearly lost the dribble but recovered in time to hit Townes for a dunk in traffic, then stole the ball at halfcourt and saved it with a toss to Brewer, who threw a behind-the-back pass to Rashard Sullivan for a slam and 41-29 lead.
Townes followed a Sullivan miss and Brewer found him on the next possession for a dunk while he was fouled.
Townes kept it going in the second half with a baseline jumper for a 53-45 lead. He tipped in a Brewer miss to widen the lead to 10 and polished off his night with another thunderous dunk to put Arkansas ahead 84-64.
In between, Brewer and Ferguson continued to make plays.
Nice feeds from Ferguson sent junior Jonathon Modica to the foul line twice and he finally tied his career high with his eighth assist to a cutting Brewer on the baseline for the Razorbacks' umpteenth dunk of the game.
For only the second time this year, Arkansas had more assists (23) than turnovers (13).
"We want to be unselfish," Brewer said. "If it wasn't me, it was Dontell or Eric having a lot of assists. We didn't want to turn the ball over.
"In recent years, that ratio hasn't been where it should be. We know we have quality ballhandlers. We just have to take our time and do what we know we can do."
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