Morgan State senior guard Reggie Holmes tossed in a game-high 34 points, including a pair of game-clinching free throws with 6.3 seconds left, as the Bears downed the Razorbacks 97-94 Tuesday night at Bud Walton Arena.
Morgan State (4-1) did so before a crowd of 7,468 fans as the Razorbacks (2-2) - who were riding a 45-game nonconference home winning streak - joined Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn in falling in their own building this season.
"Offense didn't lose it for us," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "Not being able to defend and rebound the basketball in the half court or transition did…We know exactly where it is – we have to rebound the basketball and play better defense. That is where we really got hurt tonight. It is disappointing."
It was only the second time in 27 games under Pelphrey that the Razorbacks had scored more than 80 points and lost.
Rotnei Clarke had 26 points to lead Arkansas – who had a 13-point lead in the opening half - while Michael Washington added 21 and true freshmen Marshawn Powell and Julysess Nobles both 17 for the Razorbacks, who lost despite shooting 50.9 percent from the field.
Clarke (7 of 13 from the field) knocked down a pair of his four 3-pointers in the final 14 seconds, but missed one at the buzzer that would have sent it into overtime.
"I had a decent look at it," Clarke said. "They played it pretty well defensively, but I had a decent look at it. But I probably rushed it too much, didn't have my feet set and just missed it."
It was a big win for Morgan State, who has now beaten Maryland, DePaul and Arkansas in the past three seasons under former California head coach Todd Bozeman.
"First of all, I know that Arkansas is having a tough time with different players being out and we were just fortunate to come down and play well enough to squeak out a victory," Bozeman said. "I feel for Coach Pelphrey and I know when those guys get back they are going to continue to work."
Holmes was 8-of-16 from the field, 5-of-10 from 3-point range and 13-of-15 from the free throw line while also coming up with four steals.
"I just couldn't wait to play again after the (90-81) loss Sunday (at Louisville)," Holmes said. "I played 16 minutes and I was very upset. I didn't take no phone calls from nobody for a couple of days. I was upset I fouled out and we lost that game when I thought we could have done better."
Holmes was happy to add the SEC scalp to the Morgan selection.
Bozeman was certainly impressed with Clarke, who certainly got plenty of defensive attention.
"That kid Clarke is an unbelievable shooter," Bozeman said. "He is one of the best I have ever seen next to my man Reggie Holmes."
With a starting front line of 6-10, 6-9 and 6-8, the Bears out-rebounded the Razorbacks 40-26 with Kevin Thompson's 14 boards leading the way.
In contrast, Washington and Powell – Arkansas' two biggest guys – who combined for just eight boards.
"The big fella (Thompson) up front in just 23 minutes of action just rebounded the ball better than our whole front court did," Pelphrey said. "You have got to give him credit.
"We talked about how we needed to win the rebounding battle, but we didn't and we didn't win the game," Pelphrey added.
That allowed the visitors to shoot just 44.3 percent from the field and still win. It was a game in which a whopping 86 free throws were shot – 41 in the opening half and 45 after intermission.
The game marked the return of senior guard Stefan Welsh, who had five points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 20 minutes in his first game off indefinite suspension.
He hit a jumper to put Arkansas up 83-81 with 3:18 left, but that was the last time the Razorbacks led.
"I thought he made some good plays, but none of us made enough to win, though," Pelphrey said.
Welsh spelled both starting point guard Nobles and Clarke.
Nobles' 17-points were a career-high and he also dished out six assists with three turnovers – one that came with 47 seconds left and his team down 87-84.
"He has been tremendous – that kid has," Pelphrey said of Nobles. "It was just a bad play, but he hasn't made many, but that was just good defense by them and we lost that possession.
"I think he is capable of doing some more things offensively, but as a point guard you don't need that, you need him first to take care of the basketball and get it to where it is supposed to be. He has been great at that and tonight he found some opportunities and made some plays."
Arkansas went up 47-34 on Powell's slam slammed with 4:11 remaining before intermission.
But a late flurry by the Bears – including a late 8-0 run that cut it to 51-47 on Holmes' 3-pointer.
Powell's lay-up capped the first-half scoring with 37 seconds left and sent his team to the break with a 53-47 advantage.
Morgan State kept coming and eventually took the lead on Ameer Ali's two free throws that put the Bears up 69-68 with 8:29 left.
Cleveland State transfer Joe Davis added 18 for the Bears.
"We try to schedule teams from all different conferences to try and get all around the country to see different styles from different leagues," Bozeman said. "I am proud of my guys and when you win right before Thanksgiving it makes the turkey taste a little bit better."
Arkansas will host East Tennessee State on Friday at 7 p.m. and then South Alabama on Sunday at 2 p.m.
"Obviously we don't have a lot of time to bounce back," Pelphrey said. "We have to take tomorrow off and then we have a very short time to get ready for East Tennessee State, another team who has been to the NCAA Tournament a year ago and have kids back and know what they are doing. I am sure this gives them confidence right now and we will need to respond and play better."
Marshawn Powell goes in for a dunk as Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman looks on.
Mike Washington gets the ball down low.
John Pelphrey reacts during his team's loss.