ATLANTA – All of a sudden "The Manimal" is back and it couldn't come at a better time for the University of Arkansas basketball program.
Charles Thomas, the Razorbacks' rugged 6-8, 235-pound senior power forward, will be the first to tell you that has played more like a teddy bear the last quarter of the season.
But after 13 points in Thursday's win over No. 18 Vanderbilt, Thomas emphatically reclaimed his long-time nickname with a career-high 24 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in Arkansas' 92-91 win over No. 4 Tennessee in the SEC Tournament semifinals.
"It comes from my teammates," Thomas said. "It's not about the individual, it's always about my teammates and my coaches having confidence in me all year long. They wanted me to become the Charles Thomas of preseason.
"I credit (teammate) Patrick Beverley with really challenging me and (UA assistant) Coach (Rob) Evans," Thomas added. "Everything that I did would have been all for naught if we had come out with the L. We came out with a victory and I credit my team for it."
Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey is overjoyed to see the bruiser back to form as the Razorbacks (22-10) advance on to play Mississippi State-Georgia winner on Sunday at 2 p.m. CST in the their second straight title game appearance.
"When he plays like that, it really, really helps," Pelphrey said. "I thought he was awesome tonight. He was big, big time competing around, being strong and physical around the basket.
"At times he has rushed things and looked like he had two or three thoughts going through his head at the same time," Pelphrey continued. "Tonight he had good purpose and composure. Boy, what a special night he had."
Thomas hit all 8 of his shots (5 field goals, 3 free throws) in the first half and finished 8-of-13 from the field, 1-of-2 from behind the 3-point arc and 7-of-7 from the line.
He threw in 2 steals, 2 assists and a block for good measure in a game that teammate Steven Hill won by tossing in a 5-footer with 5.9 seconds left.
"Obviously the power forwards and the bigs haven't really been holding their own in SEC play," Thomas said. "A lot of people have been kind of hard on us, including the coaches and we just wanted to respond."
Thomas' re-emergence is a big boon for Arkansas and fellow inside force Darian Townes, who had 16 points.
"Charles just played terrific and really stepped up tonight," Townes said. "He has kept working so hard and he's back to his old self. It makes it so much easier for the rest of us when he plays big-time like that. What a game he had tonight."
The Manimal Is Back
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