Poised Arkansas Staves Off Austin Peay

FAYETTEVILLE — His most experienced and productive player jogged toward the Arkansas bench, a casualty of his fifth foul with 2 minutes, 27 seconds left Wednesday night, taking his 24 points and 14 rebounds with him.

So Arkansas coach John Pelphrey didn't exactly know what to think as his young Razorbacks tried to put away Austin Peay. He admitted feeling equally hopeful and unsure.

"If you had told me that in a four-point game, we'd lose Mike Washington with three minutes left, I don't know if I would've liked our chances," Pelphrey said. "We just kind of hung in there. That was good to do that. You have to give the guys in the game (at the end) some credit."

The Razorbacks (7-1) ran their nonconference home winning streak to 39 games on Wednesday night, defeating the Governors 89-80 because they didn't show their inexperience. They didn't wilt under pressure. They didn't panic.

Without its dominant post player for the final 147 seconds, Arkansas secured the basketball, converted free throws and defended well enough to fight off pesky Austin Peay (5-4).

"We just said, ‘Stay together, don't quit, play as hard as you can,'" freshman point guard Courtney Fortson said.

And that's exactly what the Razorbacks did in front of a small but boisterous crowd of 10,135 in Bud Walton Arena.

The Razorbacks had stalled offensively after offensive rebounds and fast break points spurred them to a 50-point first half. Meanwhile, no matter how many times the Hogs seemed on the verge of breaking the game open in the second half, Austin Peay always had an immediate response.

"They just kept coming back," Fortson said. "Every time we went on a run, they'd knock down a big shot."

Eventually, the Razorbacks produced two game-altering shots of their own, one occurring before Washington fouled out and one after.

Junior guard Stefan Welsh drilled a 3-pointer as the shot clock ticked down to give Arkansas a 75-70 lead with 3:51 left. Freshman guard Rotnei Clarke nailed a 3 as he faded into the Razorback bench for an 80-73 lead with 1:49 to go.

"In the recruiting process I told Rotnei and his family that he's a weapon, that he has ability to really change the game when it gets late like that," Pelphrey said.

Arkansas then proceeded to exhibit poise throughout the game's final two minutes.

The Razorbacks drained nine of their final 10 free throw tries on their way to a season-best 86.2 free throw percentage. And they didn't commit a turnover as Austin Peay furiously tried to pressure them into backcourt miscues.

Even opposing coach Dave Loos came away impressed with the Hogs' composure.

"Arkansas played much better than the tapes we watched," Loos said.

On those videos, the Razorbacks displayed the maddening inconsistency that has plagued their first seven games. For one evening, though, they at least looked capable of handling pressure with poise.

"We've gotten better mentally every game," Fortson said. "Physically, we're coming along, too. But mentally, I can definitely see it (in) every game, every player. We're getting there."

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