All of a sudden a beleagured University of Arkansas basketball team with an embattled head coach is looking like a team nobody will want to play next week at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.
Junior point guard Gary Ervin had a career-high 21 points, Patrick Beverley added 20 points and 10 rebounds and fellow true freshmen Michael Washington had a career-high 15 points and 6 rebounds as the visiting Razorbacks upset No. 23 Vanderbilt 82-67 Saturday afternoon before 13,285 fans in Memorial Coliseum.
The visiting Razorbacks hit 15 of their last 16 free throws to finish off their second road win this season in nine tries and end Vandys 13-game home winning streak.
"What a great, great, great performance by our Razorbacks," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "I have always had faith and they are really stepping up. I just feel like God is with these guys and is just helping us get through a lot of adversity.
"It was just an outstanding performance from top to bottom every single guy that went in there," Heath said. "They were together, they were playing with intensity and they had great focus and determination about themselves."
It was the first time this season that Arkansas (18-12, 7-9) had won back-to-back SEC games and also was the first time during SEC action that Vanderbilt (20-10, 10-6) had lost at home.
"You never know when that light bulb is going to come on," Heath said, "but it is on right now. It is really on. These guys are showing a lot of love for each other.The guys are sticking up for each other and their focus is solely on winning."
Arkansas is now 4-2 against teams ranked in the top 25 this season and Heath runs his record to 4-1 against Vanderbilt.
Darian Townes added 9 points and 5 rebounds as the Razorbacks destroyed Vanderbilt on the boards to the tune of a 42-30 advantage.
"We did a lot of things well, but I thought the key was our rebounding," Heath said. "We did a great job of cleaning up misses and keeping possession of the basketball. It led to a lot of running for us, getting up and down the court, getting some transition baskets and we were able to throw over the top of the defense."
The Razorbacks will be either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in next week's SEC Tournament in Atlanta depending on the outcome of Sundays Alabama-Mississippi State contest.
If Mississippi State wins, Arkansas will be the No. 3 seed and play East No. 6 South Carolina Thursday night at around 2:15 p.m. CST.
If Alabama wins, the Razorbacks will be the fourth seed and play againstGeorgia at 6:30.
"Who knows, we will figure all that stuff out later," Heath said. "I just want to enjoy this victory for a moment and let these guys really enjoy themselves as well."
Derrick Byars had 19 points and Dan Cage 15 for the Commodores, who shot just 31.7 percent from the field while Arkansas was shooting 48 percent from the field.
"Our defense in the last two weeks - and I know sometimes when you lose games you lose sight of some of the things you are doing well - but over about the last two weeks, the last four or five games, our defense has been outstanding," Heath said. "As a matter of fact, right now we are the number one field goal defensive team in the SEC Conference. It carried us today against a very good Vanderbilt team that has great scorers."
Washington had his 15 points and 6 rebounds in just 19 minutes of action - all highs for him this season.
With the game tied 12-12, Arkansas went on a 15-3 run that included two 3-pointers from the 6-10 Washington, who also got a fast-break dunk and another inside bucket.
"Gary and Patrick have both been playing very well, but to get that third option in there was big for our basketball team," Heath said. "In the other game (Wednesday's win over Mississippi State) Stefan Welsh stepped up for us and in this particular game it was Michael Washington."
Vanderbilt got within 60-55, but Sonny Weems rebound basket gave the Razorbacks a 7-point lead and they would never lead by less than that the rest of the way.
"The crowd really got into the game and the energy in the building really picked up and they started making a bunch of threes in a row and a lot of free throws," Heath said, "we bent a little bit, but we didnt crack. On the road with a young basketball team like that, it shows a lot of toughness."
Weems had 7 points, Steven Hill 4 and Charles Thomas just 2, but Arkansas still won going away.
Arkansas hit 27-of-34 free throws in the win while Vandy netted 21 of 25.
"What a great win for us in somebody's own house," Heath said. " I just love it for these guys."
Arkansas 82, Vandy 67
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