TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – If ever there was a road win for this University of Arkansas basketball team to take, it was on Wednesday night.
But it appears that the Razorbacks did not want it bad enough before a paltry crowd that was announced at 9,164 fans but was actually around 3,000.
Demetrius Jemison had a career-high 19 points and a career-high 11 rebounds and Richard Hendrix added 12 points and 10 rebounds as Alabama downed equally struggling Arkansas 59-56 at Coleman Coliseum.
"We just were not very good, I'll tell you that right now," a dejected Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said after the game. "We were not good on either side of the basketball. It was a disappointing effort.
"This was an opportunity for us to come in and win," Pelphrey added. "Give Alabama credit, but Alabama didn't win the ballgame; we lost it. That's not taking anything away from Alabama. That's not to say Mark Gottfried can't coach because he can. They have got good players, maybe a couple of all-league players, but I am just calling it like I see it."
It was just the second win in six games for the Crimson Tide (15-13, 4-9), who won despite shooting just 41 percent from the field, 20 perecent and 54.2 percent from the free throw line.
It gave them a split of the season series as the Razorbacks - who had won three straight between the two teams - had won 75-69 in overtime in Fayetteville earlier this season.
"Sometimes when you win, you win ugly," Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried said. "Well tonight, that ugly win was beautiful. We really did a good job of guarding them."
Darian Townes and Sonny Weems had 17 points each in what was the fourth loss in five games for the Razorbacks (18-9, 7-6).
Townes was 7-of-10 from the field, but the rest of the team was a combined 15-of-51 on the night.
That made a strange quote by Townes actually seem appropriate.
"On any given night in the SEC, anybody can lose," Townes surmised.
Alabama's win leaped them from sole possession of last place in the SEC West into a four-way tie for third-place with Ole Miss, Auburn and LSU, who beat South Carolina.
"I thought we did a great hustling and made a lot of tough plays defensively," Gottfried said. "I think they are a very good basketball team so I consider this a big win for us. This was an effort win, 100 percent effort."
Arkansas, which shot 35 percent from the field, 14.3 percent from the 3-point line and 56.3 from the free throw line.
"Our basketball team did not perform to the level it is capable of," Pelphrey said. "We didn't perfrom to the level we actually practiced. It's bizarre. Certainly this is the wrong time of the year to be performing this way. We saw some things that were just bizarre tonight with having rebounds thrown back to the other team, balls going off our feet, just crazy plays, things you don't anticipate taking place in the game."
The Razorbacks quest to make the NCAA Tournament doesn't get any easier on Saturday when it hosts No. 14 Vanderbilt, who upset No. 1 Tennessee on Tuesday night.
"We've got to win," Arkansas senior point guard Gary Ervin said. "That's all it boils down to. Enough with saying that we have got to bounce back, we've got to just play. That's the biggest thing. We've got to give effort for 40 minutes. Not 20, not 30, it's got to be all out war once we get to the court. If we don't approach it like that, it shows in the last four minutes."
Ervin, who had 6 points, 5 assists and 3 of his team's 16 turnovers, was rode hard by the Alabama student section.
"The crowd doesn't factor into what was going on out there on the court," Ervin said. "The crowd is going to say what they have to say, but they can't touch me."
Neither could Arkansas do that to Jemison, who came in averaging just four points and four rebounds per game and had been riding the pine some lately.
"I just had two great days of practice," Jemison said. "We as a team had two great days of practice after the loss against Auburn (Saturday). We just committed ourselves to coming in and taking away any open looks they had. We just wanted to play together as a team. This win is a result of us playing together as a team."
The first half was one of absolute offensive futility for both teams.
Alabama, which won the board battle 42-40, shot a woeful 36.4 percent from the field, but that bested Arkansas' frigid 30 percent (9-of-30).
The two teams combined to go 1-of-16 from 3-point range and just 6-of-17 from the free throw line.
Alabama grabbed a 26-20 lead right before halftime, but Townes' old-fashioned 3-point play with 16 seconds left cut it to 26-23 at the break.
Bama then pushed that to 28-23 before Arkansas finally got it in gear with a 11-4 run.
That started with a Ervin 3-point and Arkansas took the lead when Townes scored inside on the break to put the Razorbacks up 34-32 with 15:59 left in the game.
But the Crimson Tide scored the next 7 points with Yamene Coleman's bucket inside surging his team ahead 39-34 and prompting an Arkansas timeout at the 13:13 mark.
The Razorbacks rallied back to tie it 43-43 when Ervin put in a fast-break lay up with 8:11 left in the game.
Townes' slam got Arkansas within 49-48 at the 3:34 mark, but Jemison hit a 12-footer and the visitors never got closer than 3 points from that point on.
Once again the Razorbacks continued a trend of fouling too much - 22 in this game.
"It was really frustrating," Weems said. "They aren't fouls that keep people from scoring. The are dumb fouls, reaching and hacking and all that."
After a 17-5 overall start and 6-2 in the opening half of conference play, Arkansas is skidding home.
"We just got to look in mirror and see the mistakes that we made," Townes said. "We have got to get ready for Vanderbilt. This game is over, done."
Alabama 59, Arkansas 56
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