NORTH LITTLE ROCK – There were 15,687 fans at Alltel Arena on Saturday afternoon that brought their "A" game.
And this year, the University of Arkansas basketball team returned the favor beginning with the second half.
Michael Washington had a career-high 34 points and 11 rebounds and electrifying freshmen Courtney Fortson spearheaded an exhilarating 21-2 run to put the game away as the Razorbacks whipped North Texas 86-75 in their only Central Arkansas appearance of the year.
"The crowd here in North Little Rock was just awesome from start to finish," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "It's pretty humbling and pretty special...It was pretty awesome to be a part of that. Our fans certainly played a part in helping us play better and making it difficult for the opponent."
Stefan Welsh added 17 points, Fortson 12 points and 9 assists and Rotnei Clarke 11 points as Arkansas (11-1) won its ninth straight game and certainly looked different than in last year's loss to Appalachian State on the same court.
They did so with a season-high 21 dives on the floor, including two times when all five were on the floor for loose balls.
"That was so awesome," Pelphrey said. "I told these guys (before the season) 'don't just stand out there. When you play at Arkansas, it is not a place that you have to wake the crowd up, encourage them to get them to scream or cheer for you. All you have got to do is have a great attitude, have good chemistry and show what it is all about to be part of a team and then just play as hard as you possibly can."
The Razorbacks avoided a classic "trap" game with the North Texas contest located between an upset of No. 4 Oklahoma last week and a date with No. 8 Texas in Fayetteville on Tuesday night.
North Texas head coach Johnny Jones left impressed.
"In basketball, each game is a series of runs and Arkansas is the type of team that can put you away with their runs," Jones said. "They are a top-25 caliber team. They have guys who can really shoot the ball and get out and defend you."
Washington was 11-of-14 from the field (hitting 10 in a row after missing his first shot) and 10-of-12 from the free throw line.
"Michael Washington was obviously great today," Pelphrey said. "We wanted to throw it in there so many times that his hands got sore. He also needs to be commended for stepping to the line and hitting his free throws today."
North Texas (8-6), which had a 15-0 run in the opening 20 minutes, led 42-40 at half.
The Mean Green had 7 of their 9 3-pointers in the first half and two more soon after the break before the Razorback defense went to work.
"We did a terrible job of guarding in the first half," noted Pelphrey of North Texas shooting 55.6 percent before intermission, "so I was happy to see we got that figured out in the second half. We knew they had some good 3-point shooters and led their league in shooting, but still it was frustrating to let them shoot so well in the first half.
"In the second half, we applied more pressure and got more turnovers in the process," Pelphrey added. It could have been a little fatigue on their part. This was not our best played game so it was key that the guys fought and scratched so we could come away with a win today."
Arkansas tied it 53-53 on Clarke's 3-pointer and then just exploded.
Seven different Razorbacks scored in the spree, which culminated with freshman Brandon Moore's jumper that put his team up 71-55 with 10:32 left in the game.
It also included one of those scenes where all five Razorbacks dove on the floor at the same time for a loose ball to the delight of the crowd.
"I think we found a good group of guys and we were able to get a bunch of consecutive stops and got some rebounds," Pelphrey said. "Like I said, play some defense, get some rebounds and it's easier to play offense."
Former Arkansas-Fort Smith player Dominique Johnson led the Mean Green with 15 points, Josh White added 14 and Eric Tramail and Adam McCoy 13 each for the visitors.
The Razorbacks shot 50.9 percent from the field to 43.3 percent North Texas and knocked down 25-of-34 free throws.
Arkansas got the fans in a frenzy early and went up 9-3 in just over 2 minutes when Clarke buried a deep 3-pointer at the 17:52 mark.
North Texas made a run with 3 consecutive 3-pointers that surged the Mean Green ahead 16-15 on White's 3-pointer with 14:09 left in the half.
An 8-0 run soon later by the Razorbacks regained the momentum.
It was a spree capped when Clarke dove on the floor, got a loose ball, was fouled and netted two free throws to put his team ahead 27-20 with 8:16 remaining before intermission.
North Texas then delivered its 15-0 punch – a period that included a technical on Pelphrey and ended with yet another trio of consecutive 3-pointers.
Adam McCoy hit two of those three, including the one that surged his team ahead 35-27 with 5:07 showing.
"We feel good about our team and we felt good about the guys we had coming into this game that we would be able to compete," Jones said.
The Razorbacks fought back and tied it up on a flurry that got the fans going again.
It included the first play that saw all five Arkansas players hit the floor for a loose ball, then the defense forcing a shot clock violation and then Washington scoring on the baseline to tie it 37-37 at the 1:44 mark.
Arkansas will return to action against Texas on Tuesday night at 8:05 p.m. in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN2.
"If Oklahoma is not the class of the Big 12, then it has to be Texas," Pelphrey said. "They are really deep in the frontcourt, have a great shooter in (A.J.) Abrams and a tremendous athlete in (Damion) James. They can take their show on the road and win in a tough environment as they have already proven this year with their win at Wisconsin."
Arkansas 86, North Texas 75
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