The Grinch – who was seen in his normal green attire Friday night during a halftime performance by the University of Arkansas cheerleaders at Bud Walton Arena – actually appeared to be outfitted in an Oral Roberts University uniform before intermission.
But led by Patrick Beverley, Sonny Weems and Charles Thomas, the Razorbacks snatched back Christmas Break for the home team after recess and also gave head coach Stan Heath his 100th career win.
Beverley had 25 points and Weems 18 – with both starters coming off the bench after being late to the pre-game meal - as the Razorbacks rallied from a five-point deficit early in the second half and eventually whipped the visiting Golden Eagles 68-56 before 14,338 fans.
"Fortunately for us, I thought our defense really picked it up in the second half," said Heath, whose team was down 26-24 at halftime. "Our intensity level picked up, our intensity level picked up, our energy level went up and we fed off that and the crowd fed off that. We were a totally different team."
Thomas added 12 points and 9 rebounds in a win that broke a two-game losing streak for the Razorbacks (9-3) and came less than 48 hours after Arkansas' heartbreaking 80-76 loss to Texas in Austin on Wednesday night.
Arkansas – which had a trio of 8-0 runs and shot 57.1 percent from the floor in the second half while scoring 44 points - is now off for Christmas Break and will return Dec. 26 to being practicing for a Saturday, Dec. 30 date with Louisiana Tech at 1:35 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena.
It will be a nice respite for his team according to Heath – who is now 70-60 at Arkansas after a 30-6 record in one year at Kent State - after the Razorbacks had played four games in eight days and gone 2-2.
"We have just gone through a grueling stretch," Heath said. "To play the teams that we played with the amount of rest time in between was very taxing – mentally and physically. That is not an excuse, but that was hard. I was proud of our team to come out in the second half – and I know we didn't do it in the first half – but came out and played the way we need to play.
"We have got to get better and we have got a couple more games (Louisiana Tech and Tulsa) before SEC Conference play starts," Heath said, "but when this team is clicking and we have everything going has a chance to be good."
Caleb Green, who topped the 2,000 career point mark for the Golden Eagles during the game, had 23 points and a game-high 15 rebounds for ORU (5-6), who has now lost five of seven since upsetting then No. 3 Kansas 78-71 on the Jayhawks' home floor back in November.
"That is a very, very good basketball team that we beat today," Heath said. "Oral Roberts has played a tough schedule and it reflects in their record a little bit. But there are some very talented players on that team in Caleb Green and (Ken) Tutt."
ORU head coach Scott Sutton, the youngest son of former Arkansas head coach Eddie Sutton, was both impressed with Arkansas and a little miffed at the refs.
"They just had a lot more energy and the crowd got into the game," Sutton said. "Arkansas likes to get the ball out in transition. We had way too many turnovers (12), nine in the first half. Bottom line is they came out and played well and took advantage of a couple of calls. It's hard to win games on the road against good teams."
The calls that Sutton was referring to were Beverley twice getting foul calls on 3-point attempts, including the second one which coupled with a technical on Sutton had the Razorbacks' talented freshman from Chicago standing at the line and making five straight charity tosses.
ORU senior Ken Tutt added 15 points, but just six of those came after halftime and he hit only 1-of-10 second-half field goal attempts with Beverley hounding him and forcing him into a 6-for-20 night from the floor.
Beverley, who scored 11 of his team's last 14 points and came up just short of his career-high 298-point effort in his college debut, apologized to his teammates before the game as did Weems.
"I made a freshman mistake tonight and was late to the team dinner so I felt like I realty had to prove myself," Beverley said. "I wanted to play hard and get the job done. We really came out in the second half and finished strong."
Weems, who had four dunks in the game with three of them coming in the halfcourt offense, was feeling the same remorse.
"I came out to play tonight and felt like I had to redeem myself," Weems said. "This was an important game to me. I feel as long as the ball is in transition I can finish it off."
ORU led 29-24 just into the second half when Tutt buried a 3-pointer right out of the locker room.
But Arkansas roared back with 8 straight points – a spree capped by back-to-back dunks by Weems and Steven Hill that surged the Razorbacks ahead 32-29 with 17:50 left in the game.
A second 8-0 run kept a few minutes later kept the Arkansas momentum going and the lead grew to 47-37 when Weems (9-of-11 from the field) buried a 3-pointer with 12:12 remaining.
The Golden Eagles clawed back within 53-47 on Yemi Ogunoye's 3-pointer at the 6:34 mark, but Beverley scored seven of the next eight points to put the visitors away.
His 3-pointer made it 61-47 with 3:10 showing on the clock and he capped his team's scoring with the five straight free throws with 57 seconds left in the game.
"We came in and took care of business," Thomas said. "We didn't want to feel the pressure. We knew we couldn't get nervous. Win, lose or draw, it's just a basketball game – we are still a family. The first half we were thinking too much and playing too tentatively. We got a good pep talk from Coach (Heath) at halftime and came out strong in the second half. This was a big victory before we go home before the break."
Arkansas 68, ORU 56
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