For Vincent Hunter, though, the surprise might not have been being a starter. But instead how the idea of his starting came about.
A fifth-year senior from Little Rock, Hunter was making just his second start of the season Saturday. And it made sense. After all, Hunter was playing his final game back in his native central Arkansas.
But while the surprise start, at least to the fans, served as a nice early Christmas gift for Hunter — who finished with two points and one rebound in five minutes — this wasn't a coach's decision. It was, however, Charles Thomas'.
A teammate of Hunter's for the past four seasons, Thomas decided to give up his starting spot Saturday to his good friend.
"Honestly, I really didn't want anybody to know about it," Thomas said. "It's just one of those things that a teammate does for another teammate. You know, friend to friend and family to family."
Thomas said Hunter had earned the right to start in his final Little Rock appearance after giving so much to the Arkansas program for the past four and half seasons.
"This is Vincent Hunter's last year in Little Rock and obviously he is a big part of our team," Thomas said. "And honestly, he is the heart and soul of this team and of Arkansas basketball."
Nothing Free About ‘Em
Arkansas can point to several factors for its 74-67 loss Saturday against Appalachian State. Poor defense, not enough rebounding and simply an opponent that couldn't miss.
More than any of those reasons, though, the Razorbacks might have shot themselves in the foot from the charity stripe for the second loss in a row.
After hitting just 9 of 17 free throw attempts in their 83-72 loss at Oklahoma on Dec. 15, the Razorbacks (9-3) again struggled from the line Saturday.
"It's in the past now and we can't worry about it, but that's the ballgame," Thomas said. "If we hit our free throws, we're in a position to win and we put the pressure on them.
"But they made their free throws, hit 12 of 12 and they did what it took to win the ballgame."
Arkansas ended the game 14 of 25 from the line for a 56-percent mark. But it could have been much worse, as the Razorbacks were 8 of 19 at one point in the second half before connecting on their final six attempts.
"It's something we have to worry about," senior forward Sonny Weems said. "We just have to man up and make our free throws."
Not Enough Beverley, Too Much Weems
While free throws were a big reason for Arkansas' loss, having Patrick Beverley in early foul trouble surely didn't help the cause either.
After picking up his second foul with 16 minutes, 29 seconds still left in the first half, the sophomore guard was forced to the bench. And that's where he would stay, watching almost helplessly before finally returning to the action after intermission.
"Beverley has good energy and brings a good vibe to the team, especially on defense," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "So not having him in the game early really hurt us."
With Beverley forced to watch, Weems tried to take up much of the shooting slack. But that plan didn't work out so well, as Weems hit just 5 of 16 attempts from the floor Saturday.
"It's real tough because Patrick is a great player," Weems said. "Anytime you have a player like that on the bench, it's going to be hard for your team."
Arkansas is now 1-3 when trailing at halftime this season. The Razorbacks' one win came against Oral Roberts... When Thomas doesn't start this season, Arkansas is 0-3. When Thomas is in the starting lineup, the Razorbacks are 9-0... At Alltel Arena, Arkansas is now just 4-5 all-time.
Hunter Gets Rare Start
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