On a day when what happened in West Virginia was probably more important than what happened in Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas took care of some post-Christmas business.
Charles Thomas had 16 points and Patrick Beverley 13 as the Razorbacks broke open a tight game midway though the first half and eventually routed Louisiana Tech 80-50 Saturday afternoon before an announced crowd of 13,557 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"I was real pleased with our effort," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "The intensity came from our defense. We were so active, running the floor and we didn't turn the ball over. This was a very solid performance for us."
Darian Townes added 12 points. 5 rebounds and 3 blocks for Arkansas (10-3), who were playing their first game since a 68-56 win over ORU on Dec. 23 and against a team – who like Arkansas – has its top player from last season now playing in the NBA.
Both Arkansas alum Ronnie Brewer and Tech's Paul Millsaps – the nation's leading rebounder last season - are both rookies for the Utah Jazz.
Chad McKenzie led Louisiana Tech, which had 15 of its 22 turnovers in the first half.
"It was a win or lose game late in the first half when it was 21-17," Louisiana Tech head coach Keith Richard said. "We were mixing it up with man and zone, but I thought we had a lot of turnovers. Also, you simply can not score against a defensive team like Arkansas.
"It cost us," Richard continued. "Our guards played like junior high guards against NBA guards...The two teams were like night and day on the court today."
The Arkansas win – aided by 9-of-20 3-point shooting - came on the same day as West Virginia downed No. 9 UConn 81-71, making the Razorbacks' win over the Mountaineers in the finals of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando even better.
West Virginia (11-1) has won six straight since the Razorbacks handed the Mountaineers their only loss.
"That never hurts, but my man concern is taking care of our own business and that's what is most important," Heath said.
Sonny Weems added 9 points (despite 3-of-13 shooting) while Gary Ervin added 8 , Steven Hill 7 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks and Sean McCurdy 5 points and 4 assists.
"We're getting much better balance on offense and much better spacing as well," Heath said.
Arkansas led just 15-13 when Tech's Trey McDowell scored inside and added a free throw at the 11:29 mark.
The Razorbacks would respond by scoring 22 of the half's last 30 points, including zipping ahead 26-17 when Gary Ervin knocked down a 3-pointer with 8:27 left before the break.
It then grew to 32-19 on Ervin's 15-footer at the 4:02 left and after consecutive dunks by Steven Hill and Sonny Weems and Hill's free throws grew to 37-21 at intermission.
Beverley's 3-pointer pushed it to 48-27 early in the second half and the lead just continued to grow from that point on.
Richard said that Arkansas' switch to a zone befuddled his team, a sentiment that Heath agreed with after the game.
"We have a lot of length and quickness and we are starting to cover for each other," Heath said. "It can be an effective defense for us. It causes turnovers and bad shots."
Hill's tip-in made it 70-39 at the 7:12 mark and surged to 78-43 when Preston Cranford knocked down a 3-pointer just before the four-minute mark.
Arkansas had 19 assists and just 11 turnovers - including only three in the first half - while shooting 49 percent from the floor during the game.
"That (turnovers) has been our barometer," Heath said. "When we take care of the ball, we win. When we have struggled, it is because we have not taken care of the ball."
Thomas was 10-of-10 from the line on the day and Townes 6-of-10 during a game where Arkansas was 19-of-29.
Arkansas will return to action next Tuesday when it closes out its non-conference slate with a game against visiting Tulsa (9-2).
The Razorbacks will then open SEC at home next Saturday against No. 8 Alabama (12-1) at 1:05 p.m.
Arkansas 80, L-Tech 50
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