Welsh's Shot Gives Arkansas Dramatic Victory

MOBILE, Ala. — The Arkansas Razorbacks didn't lead South Alabama for the first 19 minutes and 57.1 seconds of Wednesday night's second half at the Mitchell Center.

But that didn't keep the Hogs from winning. Junior guard Stefan Welsh drilled a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining to give Arkansas a 79-77 come-from-behind victory.

Welsh said the shot was his second career last-second, game-winner and his first since his junior season at Woodside High in Newport News, Va.

"On that last play, I thought (Courtney Fortson) was going to get to the rim, but they sent three people at him," said Welsh, who finished with 24 points and nine rebounds. "I came off the first pick and didn't like it. I came off the second pick, and I was shocked there was nobody there."

The dramatic rally gave Arkansas coach John Pelphrey a victory in his return to South Alabama, where he coached for five seasons before taking the Razorbacks job.

Pelphrey has now won 51 games and lost only 21 at the Mitchell Center, and the victory marked Arkansas' first nonconference road victory since beating Missouri in December 2004.

"I never talked to the guys last year when we went to Kentucky, and I never talked to the guys about me coming back here, because it's about the players, not me," said Pelphrey, who pumped his fist wildly after the final buzzer blared. "But I didn't realize how much winning would mean to me until that horn sounded.

"You know what, though, this was more about being a big win for Arkansas basketball."

The defeat for South Alabama (2-3) devastated Jaguars coach Ronnie Arrow, who noted afterward how entertaining the contest must have been for the 6,148 in attendance.

"I wish I could've been in the stands enjoying it," Arrow said. "That was a hell of a game."

For most of the evening, the Jaguars appeared intent on making their former coach upset, not their own.

Both teams started by shooting effectively and playing dismal defense throughout a frantic-paced first half. Arkansas (3-1) nailed seven of its first eight 3-pointers, four by Fortson, but also missed four of its first five free throws. The Hogs' last lead before Welsh's winner was at 35-34 with 6:28 left in the first half.

With junior Michael Washington visibly hindered by back spasms, Fortson, Welsh and freshman Rotnei Clarke filled the scoring void. Fortson scored 14 first-half points, Welsh had 11 and Clarke had nine in the first 20 minutes.

The Jaguars dominated the opening minutes of the second half, extending their lead to nine points at 56-47 and to 10 at 64-54 with 12:28 left. But each time, Welsh immediately drained a 3 to halt the Jaguars' building momentum.

The second 3 by Welsh sparked a 13-4 spurt, capped by a tough Fortson layup, that cut South Alabama's lead to 68-67 with 7:41 remaining. Clarke nailed a right-corner 3 with 47.1 seconds left, his first points of the second half, to trim South Alabama's advantage to 77-76.

Daniel Hayles then missed two free throws for South Alabama, giving Arkansas one last chance to win. Pelphrey called for Fortson to drive the lane, but three Jaguars defenders converged on the freshman point guard who scored a game-high 25 points.

Fortson found Welsh near the left elbow with about nine seconds left. Welsh dribbled to his right around a pick by freshman Michael Sanchez, paused, and then continued around another pick by Washington.

"I thought Stef could've forced the first one, but he didn't and got a clean second look," Pelphrey said.

Surprisingly wide-open, Welsh drained the 22-footer, pounded his chest repeatedly as Arrow called timeout and nearly got tackled by Sanchez, ensuring the Razorbacks would enjoy their Thanksgiving.

"It would have been a miserable day," Pelphrey said.

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