Jacobus Franciscus "Jim" Thorpe would have been proud of a pair of University of Arkansas basketball players on Wednesday night.
Just like the legendary Oklahoman who was one of the greatest athletes of all time, junior Michael Washington and freshman Courtney Fortson showed off their versatility.
Washington poured in 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds before fouling out while Fortson added 20 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists to lead the Razorbacks over Austin Peay 89-80 before 10,135 fans at Bud Walton Arena in the opening game of the three-night Jim Thorpe Classic.
"This was not a good win for us, this was a great win for us because of the way it played itself out with us overcoming adversity and foul trouble and just battling all night long," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "Austin Peay has a great program and we came out and did a lot of great things tonight. There is still plenty to work on, but we are very, very happy about getting this win over a very good team."
Rotnei Clarke added 14 points, including a key 3-pointer late that pushed it 80-73 with 1:49 left, and Stefan Welsh hit seven free throws down the stretch while scoring 12 for Arkansas (7-1).
Marcus Britt, who started in place of Welsh, added seven points.
"We countered Austin Peay's attack well tonight," Fortson said. "Every time they came with a punch, we were there to counter. We practiced that way all week and it showed up tonight."
The Razorbacks shot 53.8 percent from the field, buried 8 of 23 3-pointers and had its best game of the season from the free throw by cashing in 25-of-29 attempts.
Washington led the way going 10-of-15 from the field, 4-of-4 from the line before fouling out with just under three minutes left aqainst a team that Pelphrey believes was the best his squad has played all year.
"Without a doubt they were (a step up in competition)," Washington said. "We knew they were going to play hard, but I think we were ready for it. They hit some big shots, but so did we."
The UA squad, which just finished up finals, also had just 11 turnovers after coughing up 26 in its previous victory over winless Florida A&M a week earlier.
"One thing I can't say enough about is our attitude, which was tremendous," Pelphrey said. "Attitude is a powerful, powerful thing and I have seen it improve so much and in turn our basketball team has improved. I am very proud of that."
Drake Reed had 24 points, Wes Channels 17 and Kyle Duncan 11 for Austin Peay (5-4), an NCAA tournament team last season that won 24 games and was looking for its fifth road win already this season.
"(Arkansas) played much better tonight than the tapes we had watched," Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos said. "They have been struggling from the free throw line, but they shot the ball really well tonight. There is really a slim margin for error against a team like this."
The Governors were coming in off a loss at Louisville, who had to use a 17-2 run to end the game rally past Austin Peay.
"Our effort was good, but our play wasn't," Loos said of the loss to Arkansas. "We can't be satisfied with just keeping it close."
Arkansas played perhaps its best 9-minute stretch of the season after falling down 29-24 on Duran Roberson's lay-up with 9:07 left in the first half.
Andre Clark's jumper started a 9-0 run that gave his team the lead and finished with five straight points on one trip by Fortson.
That came off a 3-pointer and a steal and a lay-up that surged Arkansas ahead 33-29.
That margin would get to seven twice – the last time on Jason Henry's deep 3-pointer that made it 48-41 with 1:20 left.
Brandon Moore's rebound basket with 31 seconds left was the last points of the half and sent Arkansas to the break with a 50-41 advantage.
Both Moore and Clark - two young freshmen forwards - contributed hustle plays.
"They brought an energy to the floor that we really need," Pelphrey said.
The lead would crest at 11 on Washington's bucket to open the second half.
The visitors did get to 72-70 on Channels' free throw with 4:21 left, but Welsh's 3-pointer off an assist from Clarke surged that lead back to 5 soon afterwards.
Pelphrey confirmed after the game that junior forward Montrell McDonald, who has been suspended for the past five games, will no longer be with the team.
"We wish him well," noted Pelphrey, who declined to say whether he gave the player an option of returning or if McDonald left of his own accord.
It was the 39th straight home win over a non-conference foe for the Razorbacks.
"We have gotten better mentally every game," Fortson said. "Physically we are coming along, too, but mentally I can definitely see it. Every game, every player - we're getting there."
The Razorbacks, who have won five straight, will play Stephen F. Austin (6-2) Saturday night at 7:05 in the Classic's final game.
The middle game matches Austin Peay and Stephen F. Austin on Friday night at the same time.
Michael Washington jams home two of his 24 points.
Rotnei Clarke knocks down one of his 4 3-pointers in the win.
Arkansas 89, Austin Peay 80
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