DALLAS - In a game that had an NCAA Tournament feel to it – complete with a split crowd – the University of Arkansas might have taken a huge step toward the Big Dance on Saturday night.
Sonny Weems had 18 of 21 points after halftime, Charles Thomas 17 points and 10 rebounds and Patrick Beverley 13 points as the Razorbacks rallied from five down in the second half to down Baylor 85-78 before 10,056 fans at American Airlines Center.
"What a great win for our basketball team," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "Our guys really stayed with it and fought all the way to the end."
Weems knocked down 4 free throws in the final 18 seconds as Arkansas (11-3) got the win in its final nonconference game while the only previous loss for Baylor (11-2) had been to No. 4 Washington State.
Darian Townes and Stefan Welsh both added 8 for Arkansas while Curtis Jerrells had 18, Henry Dugat 14 and Tweety Carter and Kevin Rogers both added 10 for the Bears.
"We feel very fortunate to come in here and get a win," Pelphrey said. "Baylor has had a tremendous non conference schedule. They were a dangerous basketball team for us. It took us a long time to figure out how to guard them. They are talented at the guard spot, and (Kevin) Rogers up front is very talented as well.
"In the second half we started playing the game the right way in terms of figuring out how to defend the pick and roll, guard the perimeter and play the game without fouling," Pelphrey said. "Our guys stepped up and cashed in on their free throws late in the game."
It was the 20th time in 21 games that Arkansas had beaten Baylor with the other games dating back to when the pair were both in the Southwest Conference. The Razorbacks now lead the all-time series 96-45.
"It was a great atmosphere and our fans gave us so much energy," noted Arkansas freshman guard Marcus Britt, who had five points. "We played hard, we played with passion and that is why we came out with the victory."
Weems said Arkansas felt good about how it was going to play.
We came in confident and we knew that it was going to be a tough game with their guards and our guards, and their big men and our big men," Weems said. "We were just confident coming into the game. We have been working hard in practice, and I think our confidence just showed."
Baylor, who shot 60 percent in the first half and took a 48-41 lead to the break, went ahead 66-61 lead on Jerrells' old-fashioned 3-point play with 11:26 left in the contest.
But the Razorbacks – who held the Bears to just 28.2 percent shooting after intermission - responded with a 13-4 run that was capped by Thomas' jumper that put Arkansas ahead 72-70 with 6:08 left in the game.
"We just could not throw it in the ocean in that second half," Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. "They played very good defense, but we didn't help ourselves either."
Thomas scored the last 8 Razorbacks points of that spree and also took a charge and blocked a shot during the pivotal time.
"I just wanted to come out and do what I could to help my team win," Thomas said. "It was a great stretch for us."
Thomas noted that it also was a seachange of sort for a team that has struggled away from home.
"I think we kept our composure," Thomas said. " Sometimes we get in a rush when teams get a big lead like that. We just stuck together, and we were all on one page and we just kept our composure."
Beverley's free throw pushed the lead to 77-72 before Henry Dugat hit a pair of free throws and Jerrells scored to cut it to 77-76 with 2:13 left in the game.
Arkansas then put the game away on Gary Ervin's ensuing lay-up and a 6-for-6 performance from the free throw line in the final 18.8 seconds.
The Razorbacks won the game in large part because they allowed the Bears to connect on just 3-of-20 3-pointers.
Baylor had not had less than 6 3-pointers in a game this season and was hitting 40 percent from beyond the arc - but just 15 percent on Saturday.
That included an 0-of-8 effort from Jerrells.
"We blitzed the pick and roll and we tried to force it to Baylor's 3 and 4s so that we could get there post players to try and play the basketball, which makes it very difficult because that is not what they do," Pelphrey said. "In the second half we just tried to blitz the three point line, but we didn't get that done, so we just went back to jumping the pick and roll. I think that all of the chasing down the court in the second half forced Baylor to expend a lot of energy. I thought we were going against a tired basketball team in the final three minutes."
We were fortunate to be in the game as poorly as we shot the ball in the second half, 28 percent from the field, eight percent for three, and when you take Henry's (Dugat) two threes out, we're one for 17 for three," Drew said. "That's been our m.o. all year. Credit Arkansas, they really rose to the occasion. They played like a team that's been to back-to-back tournaments, a team that's got six seniors that are hungry and needed a game, and they did a great job. We were fortunate to have a chance, and we'll learn a lot from this game that will help us when conference season comes around."
It didn't help Baylor that Rogers was in foul trouble througout the game.
"That's another lesson we learned," Drew said. "We've got to do a better job as a coaching staff of monitoring Kevin (Rogers) so that we don't get him in foul trouble in that first half. We needed him on the court, and in the second half we didn't have a point or rebound out of him. He's a focal point of our team, and we need him, so we'll do a better job of keeping him out of foul trouble."
Arkansas drained 9 of 15 from 3-point range with Beverley going 4 of 8, Weems 3 of 4 and Welsh knocking down both triples that he took.
Baylor jumped out to a 10-3 lead when Rogers got loose underneath for a slam for at the 17:01 mark before Arkansas finally kicked its offense ended gear.
Gary Ervin's lay-up started a 12-4 spree that included consecutive 3-pointers from Beverly and Welsh, a bucket inside by Townes and then Beverley launched another triple that put his team ahead 16-14 with 13:26 remaining in the opening half.
The lead changed five times before the end of the half with the Razorbacks storming ahead 37-31.
The last lead change of the opening half came during a 15-2 Baylor spree that surged the Bears ahead 46-39 with 2:11 left in the opening half.
Josh Lomers' rebound basket with 24 seconds left capped the first half scoring and left Baylor ahead 48-41.
Arkansas shot 50 percent in the second half, 46.4 percent for the game, outrebounded Baylor 41-35 and and hit 24-of-31 free throws.
That included an impressive 15-of-16 free throws in the second half.
The Razorbacks will open up SEC play on Thursday night at Auburn before hosting Alabama on Sunday.
Arkansas 85, Baylor 78
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Scout On the Road: SeptemberScout takes a look at some of the top prospects we saw in person during the month of September...
Scout FootballWednesday at 2:00 PM
Longhorns Preview Oklahoma StateTexas offensive players discuss the Longhorns' upcoming game at Oklahoma State to kickoff Big 12 Conference play.
Horns DigestMonday at 6:21 PM
Louisiana CB 'Real Close' to a DecisionIt may not be too long before one of the top cornerbacks in Louisiana makes his decision. Four schools are high on his list and you can get the latest here...
Scout FootballMonday at 6:15 AM
JC defensive back talks ISU official visitOver the weekend, Iowa State played host to one of their top 2017 targets in the current recruiting cycle in Paramount, CA three-star JUCO CB Keisean Nixon. This visit for the…
AllCyclonesSunday at 6:34 PM