Arkansas 80, No. 19 Florida 61

Sonny Weems had 17 points, Gary Ervin 15, Darian Townes 14 and Patrick Beverley grabs 12 rebounds as Arkansas pounds No. 19 Florida 80-61 Saturday afternoon before 19,881 fans at Bud Walton Arena and is now tied for the lead in the SEC West.

There certainly was no Gator Bait available in Bud Walton Arena on Saturday afternoon.

In fact, the student section was mocking the visitors with an over-rated cheer based on the Gator Chomp near the end of the game.

Sonny Weems had 17 points, Gary Ervin 15 and Darian Townes 14 as the University of Arkansas routed two-time defending national champ and No. 19 Florida 80-61 before a rowdy season-high crowd of 19,881 fans.

"Any time we play here at Bud Walton Arena, we have a chance to win," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "Our fan base is one of the best in the country and it was absolutely awesome in here today.

"Our team just really played hard, especially our defense and rebounding," Pelphrey added. "The spacing has been very good, we are sharing the ball and we have been able to score some points."

Charles Thomas, Michael Washington and Patrick Beverley all added 8 points and Beverley chipped in a game-high 12 rebounds for Arkansas (16-5, 5-2).

"We knew coming into today that we were going to have to play harder, smarter, compete," Pelphrey said. "Florida has got tremendous heart and there is never a quit in them At times we have had trouble sustaining, but from our side I was very, very proud of the effort our team gave."

The Razorbacks, off to their best league start since 1998, have now won three straight and knocked off SEC Western Division-leading and No. 25 Mississippi State and the SEC East co-leading Gators in its last two outings.

Since Tennessee beat Mississippi State on Saturday night, Arkansas is now in a first-place tie in the SEC West.

"We're just going out there and playing and we want to send a message out there that we can win games," Townes said. "And we're just coming out here to fight."

That's just what Florida head coach Billy Donovan was afraid of on Saturday.

"The Arkansas kids played great tonight," Donovan said. "One of my concerns coming into this game was they are going to be bigger, faster, stronger and older - and that was the case. But I really thought the difference was the size around the basket."

It was a matchup of mentor vs. pupil since Pelphrey was a former assistant at Marshall and Florida for Donovan. Pelphrey said he sent Donovan, who he named his daughter after, a text on Saturday morning saying that 'this is ridiculous and I would rather be in Ireland' - playing golf together as they did this summer.

"We have tremendous respect for Billy and his program and it is certainly the benchmark in college basketball on a lot of fronts - winning, handling yourself with class, just across the board," Pelphrey said.

Donovan expressed the same sentiment.

"I'm proud of John," Donovan said. "He's done a terrific job with these guys here at Arkansas. This is a great opportunity for him. When you have two friends going at it like this, I don't think of it as he against I. It's more of just Arkansas against Florida."

Walter Hodge had 13 points and Nick Calathes and Mareese Speights for Florida (18-4, 5-2), who lost all five starters and showed its youthfulness on the road on Saturday.

Calathes also had 7 assists and 6 rebounds for a team that had won three straight and seven of eight games coming into the contest.

"It's not that our guys didn't play hard," Donovan said. "I think in a lot of ways, physically we were just over-matched against a very big, strong physical team."

The Gators came into the game as the SEC leaders in points and field goal percentage (51 percent), but shot just 33 percent overall and were a woeful 4-of-25 from 3-point range.

Ervin said his team was committed to its defense.

"That's the one thing you can always control," Ervin said. "You can't control night in and night out how many shots you're going to make, but you know going into the game that if you stay tough on defense you've got a chance to win the ballgame."

Arkansas, which is third in the league in field goal defense and second in 3-point defense, shot 53 percent from the field.

The Razorbacks also had 19 assists, 5 blocks and 5 steals in the game, continued their torrid free throw shooting with 10-of-13 and out-rebounded the visitors 38-29.

While they did have 14 turnovers, only three of them came in the first half as they were opening up a 25-point lead.

"We have been talking a lot about unselfishness," Pelphrey said. "The first part of this is the physical commitment. The second part is the heart and attitude of this team. They have been very unselfish and that's really been important."

Pelphrey praised the crowd over and over in his post-game remarks

"There are very many true environments like this with the energy and passion like this," Pelphrey said. "This is what college basketball on a Saturday in the SEC is all about."

Just as they did in Wednesday night's home game, Arkansas gave itself a cushion with a big first half spree.

This one was a 11-0 run that began with seven straight points by Weems and was capped on Charles Thomas' jumper that made it 19-8 at the 10:47 mark.

That surge - which included a standing ovation for new football coach Bobby Petrino - turned into a 20-4 one when Weems buried a 3-pointer to push the Razorbacks ahead 30-14 with 5:33 left before intermission.

Arkansas took its largest lead of the first half by scoring the final seven points before the break – including Ervin's lay-up with one second left that pushed Arkansas ahead 46-21.

"We just didn't get stops on the defensive end," Calathes said. "We got great looks, but it was just one of those days when we didn't knock (our three-point shots) down. Give Arkansas a lot of credit, but we weren't tough enough."

Florida never got closer than 22 points in the second half until the final minute and the lead actually grew to 30 when Washington jammed home a rebound for a 62-32 advantage with just around 12 minutes left in the game.

Townes' two free throws made it 70-46 at the 5:39 mark before Florida did some things late - including scoring the game's final five points - to make the loss less lopsided.

"When you shoot the ball like we did," Donovan said, "I think of it as really good defense and poor shooting by us. Playing against a team like that only makes us better."

The Razorbacks now get a week off before hosting Ole Miss next Saturday in a 4:05 game at Bud Walton Arena.

"We've got to somehow protect it now," Pelphrey said. "It's not because of our individual ability. It is because we made a decision to be better teammates, to play harder, to dive on the floor, how I can do less so my team can accomplish more."


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