Freshmen Fuel Arkansas Victory

FAYETTEVILLE -- Just two minutes, 30 seconds remained in Arkansas' 67-58 victory Wednesday night over Mississippi State.

The referees whistled for the final media timeout, and Razorbacks freshman Stefan Welsh plopped down on a chair 10 feet from Arkansas' Bud Walton Arena sideline.

He peered to his left and saw fellow freshman Patrick Beverley in the chair next to him. He turned his head to the right and saw the third member of the Hogs' freshman class, Michael Washington.

Welsh smiled, realizing his coach, Stan Heath, entrusted the final moments of a tight, heated contest to his three freshmen.

"When we came to the bench, I looked around and it was me, Patrick and Mike," Welsh said. "Just to see all of us on the court together was special."

Their collective production allowed Arkansas to win just its second game in its past six games. With the victory, Arkansas (17-12) moved to 6-9 in the Southeastern Conference and sparked hopes for a late-season run as the SEC Tournament quickly approaches.

For Arkansas to go on a tear through the SEC Tournament, the Hogs' freshmen obviously must produce like they did Wednesday night.

Before an announced crowd of 12,724, Welsh scored a career-high with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including four 3-pointers. Beverley shook off a putrid start -- he missed his first nine shots -- to nail two crucial 3s late in the second half. And Washington, despite not scoring, snagged several key rebounds and blocked a Dietric Slater drive with 4:05 left.

Heath, by relying on the trio, didn't hesitate to show confidence in his youngsters.

"Fortunately for me, I didn't look at them like they were freshmen," Heath said. "I just wanted the guys out there I thought were playing well. That was the combination that I thought was working."

Welsh's impact was the most visible on a night when Arkansas relinquished 20 offensive rebounds and committed nine more turnovers than Mississippi State.

The 6-foot-2 guard from Newport News, Va., opened up his cell phone and dialed Heath late Tuesday night with a simple message.

"(The call) came out of the blue," Heath said. "He just said, 'Coach, I'm ready. I'm ready to help the team.' I took him at his word. He was sincere about it. And he proved it."

Most of his damage came in the opening 20 minutes. Welsh drilled all four of his first-half attempts, including a 25-foot 3-pointer with three seconds left in the half.

"He got the hot hand, and gave us a huge lift," Heath said. "The shot at the end of the first half was big."

So were the nine points Beverley ripped off after starting 0-for-9 from the field.

Beverley's first 3-pointer, with 5:03 to go, put Arkansas up 56-55. His second 3-pointer, aided by a Welsh screen, came with 3:48 remaining and gave the Hogs a 61-56 lead. On the Razorbacks' next possession, Beverley pump-faked and jumped into Mississippi State's Reginald Delk, drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt.

He nailed all three free throws, increasing Arkansas' advantage to six points with 2:30 left. Mississippi State didn't get any closer.

Beverley, like Welsh, just beamed at the thought of he and his two freshmen buddies contributing at the same time.

"We just came together as a family -- all three freshmen," Beverley said. "We're the future of Arkansas basketball."

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