It appeared for a little bit in the second half Saturday night that the University of Arkansas basketball team might have left a little early for the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
But despite losing an 11-point lead in the second half, the Razorbacks came back to Arkansas mentally and then put away Stephen F. Austin 70-59 before 14,932 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Sonny Weems doubled up with career-highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds, fellow junior transfer Gary Ervin added 12 points and 5 assists and junior center Steven Hill a career-high 12 points and 7 blocks as Arkansas (2-0) beat back the challenge of the Lumberjacks (1-2).
"I'm real happy that we got the win - which is the most important thing - but we did not have the energy that I expected us to have and did not play as well or with as much intensity as I expected," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "We had a couple of good stretches, but I also give credit to Stephen F. Austin. They took us out of the some of the things we wanted to do and we didn't take it back like we should have enough times."
Vincent Hunter added 11 points for the Razorbacks, whose next foe will be highly-regarded Missouri Valley Conference squad Southern Illinois in a 11 a.m. game Thanksgiving morning at the Walt Disney World's Sports Complex.
Southern Illinois was second in the MVC last season, won the league tournament title and has been to five straight NCAA Tournaments.
"This game was very good for us in that we are next going to play a nationally highly-regarded team in Southern Illinois, who likes to run the shot clock down and take good shots just like Stephen F. Austin does," Heath said. "This will give us some good things to look at in how we need to attack things both offensively and defensively."
Patrick Beverley, who scored 29 points in his college debut last week, was limited to just five on Saturday night in a game in which Arkansas shot 52.9 percent from the field.
Weems, who is about to get totally healthy from a preseason ankle injury, was 8-of-12 from the floor, 3-of-4 from 3-point range and 5-of-5 from the free throw line.
He threw in four assists, two blocks and two steals for good measure and scored 16 of his team's 18 points at one point after the Razorbacks fell down a point in the second half.
"This was by far his best game tonight," Heath said. "He's a guy that once he gets on a roll, he is hard to stop. We saw that in him last year (at Arkansas-Fort Smith). He really helped with seven offensive rebounds, giving us extra possessions."
Weems said he is about 95 percent healthy now.
"This win felt good," Weems said. "When there is a lot of hype you have to live up to it all and prove yourself."
Hill was a dominant force once again on defense with half of his team's 14 blocks, but also showed his improvement on offense with eight on his 12 points in the scond half on a variety of post moves.
"Steven is a presence on defense, but tonight he also did a very good job offensively," Heath said. "He was versatile, posting up and showed us some nice moves."
The Razorbacks led 44-33 before SFA stormed back to take a 47-46 lead that forced a timeout from Heath.
His squad responded with 13 straight points out of that timeout, 11 of them coming from former UA-Fort Smith star Weems, the 6-6 small forward who once starred as a prep for West Memphis.
He hit a shot from the baseline, a pair of free throws, watched as Darian Townes picked off a pass and went for a slam and then nailed a 3-pointer to send his team ahead 55-47.
After he scored inside, Weems capped the run with a rebound basket that made it 59-47 at the 8:22 mark.
Although the Lumberjacks chopped it back down to six, Weems used an old fashioned 3-point play and a rebound basket to end the suspense.
"It wasn't that I was trying to take over the game at that point, I was just trying to get things out of our offense, make some plays and go to the boards hard," Weems said. "My teammates also did a great job in getting me the ball in places to score."
Matt Kingsley had 18 points to lead SFA while Josh Alexander added 12 and Chaz Dykes 10 for a team that was coming off a 58-53 loss at TCU after a season-opening win over San Diego State.
The Lumberjacks made 23 field goals and shot 44 percent from the field, but had trouble scoring inside with the 14 blocks against them and also had 14 turnovers.
"Hill is a great shot blocker," SFA head coach Danny Kaspar said. "We shot the ball well, but inside he made things tough. Fourteen turnovers against Arkansas isn't going to get it done."
The second half followed pretty much the same script as the first 20 minutes did.
Arkansas led 14-9 early on Weems' 3-pointer at the 14:43 mark, but SFA responded with 10 unanswered points to go ahead 19-14 exactly three minutes later.
The Razorbacks answered that a 10-0 run with a 15-4 spree of its own, including 10 in a row to take a a 29-23 lead when Hunter knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 6:14 left before intermission.
Weems' rebound basket with 1:03 remaining capped the first half scoring and sent Arkansas to the break with a 35-31 advantage.
The Razorbacks quickly moved that to 44-33 early on the second half when Hunter nailed another 3-pointer that forced an SFA timeout with 17:07 remaining in the game.
Arkansas, who had opened their season with a 92-52 rout of Southeast Missouri State, knocked down 8-of-17 3-pointers in Saturday's win and outrebounded their foe 30-25.
The Razorbacks left the floor wanting more out of themselves.
"We have to practice hard because we know we are going to Orlando to play three straight games," Ervin said. "These nonconference games are getting us prepared for (SEC) season play. There are a lot of major teams we need to be prepared for down the road and we have a lot more to learn."
Arkansas 70, SFA 59
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