Thomas, Townes Tough To Handle

NORTH LITTLE ROCK —  Conventional wisdom would suggest one really shouldn't snicker, giggle or even laugh out loud about how easy Arkansas center Darian Townes made it look.

But it was kind of funny how Townes made everyone forget Charles Thomas was sitting on the bench for most of the first half Saturday night during his team's 80-61 win against Rice.

Thomas, who suffered a poke in the eye, couldn't see too clearly but couldn't help notice what Townes was doing in his place.

Neither could 10,961 fans in Alltel Arena.

"It was only a minor setback," Thomas said. "It was kind of a hustle play. (Arkansas guard) Sean McCurdy and one of the players from the other team kind of hit me in the eye.

"Things were a little blurry but not for long. All I could see was stars for a while."

Townes finished with a season-high 16 points and 6 rebounds in 23 minutes. Thomas played 16 minutes and scored 8 points and grabbed 2 rebounds.

They played well together. They played well without one another.

"We were kind of interchangeable," Thomas said. "That's a good thing."

Townes, who scored a previous season-high 15 points in Thursday night's 79-75 win against Missouri State, spelled Thomas for the first time with 15 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first half.

He scored 10 points — he was 5 of 8 from the floor — and had 2 rebounds before halftime.

"I just had to get the team going. I had to be a leader for that time until we got our guards going. "

Thomas had no doubt Townes could get the job done, either.

"Darian Townes is a phenomenal player," Thomas said. "It doesn't matter if he's coming off the bench, if he starts, whatever. Whenever he's in there, he'll give you his all.

"He's just a heckuva player."

Townes, who injured his left knee in a 73-67 win against Texas State on Dec. 6, said he's feeling a lot better now.

"My lateral movement still bothers me a little bit," Townes said. "I just have to work on it a little more. I'm just trying to play just the way I play. Nothing different.

"I'm about 95 percent well right now."

Townes scored his first basket of the game on a jumper with 13:14 left before the break. He scored again with 12:10 on another jumper and again with 11:34 and yet again on a layup with 10:45 left and finally on another layup with 1:26 left to give Arkansas a 30-28 lead which finalized the first-half scoring.

Thomas, rested and ready to go, started the second half and ignited a 10-0 run by the Razorbacks to put Arkansas in front 40-28 with 18:08 seconds left in the game.

During that furious run, Thomas, held scoreless in eight minutes of play in the first half, scored six points.

"I just tried to help us pick up our intensity," Thomas said. "That's what all that was about, coming out strong to start the second half. In the first half, we weren't playing at the level we know we are capable of playing.

"So, in the second half it was all about playing hard."

"Coach talked about it at halftime. We were playing too soft. He gave us a motivational speech and it just kind of sunk in."

Townes came off the bench again, this time with 15:55 left in the game, and played more solid minutes down the stretch.

"I think a little fatigue set in on them in the second half," Townes said. "We kind of took advantage of it.

"We got after them."

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