NORTH LITTLE ROCK - The University of Arkansas is going to make ESPN's SportsCenter Saturday night for all the wrong reasons.
It's courtesy of giant-killer Appalachian State, who got Michigan's home scalp in football and took Arkansas' in basketball on Saturday while shooting 66.7 percent from the field overall, 78 percent in the second half and making all 12 of its free throws.
Donald Sims – a 20–year old true freshman - had 15 of his career-high 24 points in the opening half and former Virginia player Donte Minter added 20 points, 9 rebounds and 6 blocks as the Mountaineers downed the Razorbacks 74-67 Saturday afternoon before 10,835 at Alltel Arena.
"To get the ball rolling here a little bit, I thought its obviously a super win for our program and our kids played really hard," Appalachian State head coach Houston Fancher said. "I would also like to thank (Little Rock TV station) Channel 11 for saying we couldn't win unless we brought our football team. That pumped us up a little bit. We appreciate you guys for that."
It was obviously a tough loss for Arkansas (9-3) in the last game before head John Pelphrey's team broke a few days for Christmas.
"Offensively, we just couldn't get it in the hole," Pelphrey said. "They changed after the first four or five minutes and played exclusively zone the whole time. I thought our execution was good, we got some really good looks from the perimeter and close to the basket, drives. The free throw line was tough for us as well. We just really struggled getting the basketball in the hole."
Arkansas shot just 41 percent from the field, made only 3 of 11 3-pointers and was just 14-of-25 from the free throw line.
On the other hand, Appalachian State made 11 of 14 shots in the second half and 28-of-42 overall to win the game.
"We came in and won this game tonight," Fancher said. "Nothing was given to us. We came in here and earned one tonight. I am extremely proud of our kids to come in and win in the most hostile environment we will play in all year long."
The Mountaineers (5-5) beat SEC member Vanderbilt last season in Puerto Rico in their last game before Christmas and took down their second SEC team in as many years on Saturday – the last game before Christmas.
"I don't mean for this to sound the wrong way, but this is going to be the biggest win in the nation today," Fancher said. "I think it is the biggest win in the country when you look at the scores. It's a major win for us, but as far as development for our team, this does nothing for our game with East Tennessee State coming up after Christmas."
The gameplan for Appalachian State (5-5) was simply to make Arkansas played defense late into the shot clock and then take good shots.
"Sometimes the best offense is a patient defense," Fancher said. "Late in the shot clock we wanted to get the ball down in the post and let our big guys make a play."
Charles Thomas had 15 points and led a spirited second half comeback from down 14, but the Razorbacks could never get closer than two points.
That occurred when Sonny Weems slammed home an alley-oop from Gary Ervin to cut it to 63-61 with 3:59 left in the game.
But Sims, who had scored 15 point in the first half, scored 7 of his team's next 13 points to put the game away.
"We've been good enough to be close the last few weeks," Fancher said. "We lost an 11-point lead to Wichita State, lost a 6-point lead to Charlotte, lost an 11-point lead to San Jose State – all in games where we folded down the stretch. Arkansas gave us every reason to fold down the stretch tonight, but fortunately we didn't do that. We played with a lot of poise."
It is the only scheduled game that Arkansas has in Central Arkansas this season although there is an NCAA Regional slated for Alltel in March.
"Even though the outcome of the game wasn't what we wanted, the atmosphere was pretty special and it was exciting for us," Pelphrey said. "We couldn't make enough shots today for the fans to erupt, but the fans really helped us battle back."
Darian Townes added 14, Weems 13 and Ervin 11 for Arkansas while a foul-plagued Patrick Beverley was limited to just five points.
"I've talked about how we need to make progress over this break and we didn't do it," Pelphrey said. "On paper, we were supposed to beat Appalachian State and we didn't. They ran the clock on us and are a very guard-oriented team with two big bodies down low."
The Razorbacks were down 41-33 at half and then found itself facing a 47-34 early in the second half.
Arkansas ripped of an 11-0 run to get back into the game, fueled by Thomas and capped when Patrick Beverley scored his first points of the game – a 3-pointer that brought the deficit down to 49-44 with 13:46 left in the game.
The Razorbacks got within five again twice after that, but Minter came up big down low to stem the tide.
Sims was red-hot in the first half, dropping in 15 of his points on a 6-of-7 effort from the field – including 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
He and reserve Issac Butts helped lead the Mountaineers from a 15-7 deficit to a 25-24 lead when Eduardo Bermudez got inside for a lay-up with 6:53 left in the half.
"This game could have gotten out of hand early because of the easy baskets we were giving to Arkansas," Fancher said. "Coming into the game, two things we really wanted to focus on were mixing defenses and eliminating lay-ups. I was shocked early on when we gave up so many easy baskets, but we were able to put a stop to it in the second half."
The lead then switched hands three times before Sims buried consecutive 3-pointers to surge the visitors ahead 33-28 at the 4:41 mark.
Minter's basket in the final minute pushed it to 41-33 at halftime.
That was the middle of a 10-0 run that spanned the intermission and was capped when Kellen Brand's lay-up made it 47-33 with 16:47 left in the game.
Arkansas' next game is Saturday when it hosts Louisiana-Monroe at 2:05 p.m.
"We cannot look at this as any comparison at all because we are Arkansas and not Michigan," Weems said. "We just have to come out next time and play with more emotion."
Photos by Zac Lehr
Charles Thomas screams after a basket that started Arkansas' comeback rally from down 14 on Saturday.
Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey made a plethora of subsitutions on Saturday to help his team get back into the game. Here he sends in Darian Townes (left) and Charles Thomas as UA assistant coach Rob Evans looks on.
Appalachian State 74, Arkansas 67
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