Rotnei Clarke hit a go-ahead 3-pointer late in overtime and then added two free throws in the final seconds as the University of Arkansas downed previously unbeaten Missouri State 66-62 Tuesday night in front of a season-high 10,853 fans.
Clarke had 12 of his team-high 19 points in the final 98 seconds of regulation and overtime as the Razorbacks (7-5) won their 30th straight December game at Bud Walton Arena and handed the Bears (10-1) their first loss.
"A lot is made about their style and their toughness and their defense and all that – and they are good," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "But I thought our guys matched it toe-for-toe, step-for-step. On paper, outside of the turnovers, we really, really competed in this basketball game.
"If you had told me that we would be able to do this with Mike (Washington) only playing 19 minutes out of 45 minutes, I would not have believed it," Pelphrey said. "But when you compete and show some heart, especially in this building, it is really a special place to play, isn't it?"
According to the RPI, Missouri State – 29th in those rankings - was the best team that Arkansas has played this season.
"Missouri State is the best team we've faced to this point in time and I really mean that," Pelphrey said. "You look and there are no weaknesses. They out-rebound every opponent, take care of the basketball at a high level and play a large number of guys. They're very good defensively both from the field and 3-point line. As a team they're tremendous at the free throw line. When you play Missouri State it's going to be a hard-fought game to the end."
But it was Clarke scoring his team's final 12 points of the game, hitting his final four field goal attempts after starting the night just 2 of 8.
"Caution: Flammable," Pelphrey said of Clarke. "He got hot at the right time and stepped up and made some plays for us. For us to shot 50 percent in the second half against those guys, that's operating at a pretty good level, especially without one of your best players. Good for those guys that keep battling. I still hold out hope we can continue to get better. If you play hard like that and show some heart and refuse to let your attitude get you loose and take you in a different direction, you have a chance. It's something we can build on." Clarke said he just found his range and stayed calm even as frustration started to creep in. He felt confident going down the stretch.
"Coach and my teammates trust me to have the last shot at the end and we executed really well," Clarke said. "The only reason I got open was that guys set me screens, Glenn set a screen and whoever else. I think it was a stagger. Whoever had the ball – I think it was Stef (Welsh) – just found me at the right time and I just knocked it down."
He also was quick to give credit to Bryant, who bounced off the bench and got Arkansas going after it fell down 21-14 after 14 unanswered points from the visitors.
"I think he won the game for us," Clarke said. "When he came in, he brought so much intensity and toughness and obviously he plays hard every possession he goes. He did everything for us – rebounding, blocked shots, did all the right things for us. It was huge for us – especially making a run at the beginning and finishing out strong. He was really big for us."
Bryant played only two minutes in the previous game, but said he kept his head up and ready to go.
"I was just going out there to do my job," Bryant said. "Coach tells me to bring high energy and play good defense and that's what I do. More than offense, I just play defense and blocking shots and giving my team energy. We all feed off that."
Pelphrey also took note of the attitude that Bryant had in the last game while not getting to play.
"I'm very proud of Glenn.," Pelphrey said. "Somebody asked me after the game the other day about him playing only three minutes, but he was cheering as hard as he could on the sideline. I said with that attitude you've got a chance to be a good player. Tonight his opportunity came and it came early in the game, and it came late in the game…and he was ready to go. I thought he competed and played harder than he had been. We don't win without him."
The Razorbacks shot 43.6 percent from the field, but 50 percent even in the second 20 minutes while the Bears shot 31.9 percent from the floor.
It was the 18th Arkansas win in 24 games in the series and avenged a loss last season. The Bears actually being the only team on this year's schedule that was on the schedule back in the first year of the basketball program back in 1923.
Arkansas led 46-35 with 10:38 left when Powell knocked down a pair of free throws.
But Missouri State, who had already beat UALR (75-62) and Arkansas State (75-64) and was going for the Arkansas hat trick.
Clarke had hit a short jumper with 4.7 seconds left in regulation to give his team a 59-57 lead.
But Caleb Patterson scored on an uncontested lay-up at the buzzer when UA junior Marcus Britt fell down.
Clarke said that Arkansas, which has not lost at Bud Walton Arena since doing so against current NBA star Kelvin Martin and Western Carolina exactly seven years ago to the day, got itself together in the huddle after the shot.
"It was tough because they went into overtime with the momentum," Clarke said. "We knew we had to regroup. Obviously the game wasn't over. We had another five minutes to play. Coach talked to us and told us who was going to be the toughest team here."
Kyle Weems, who led Missouri State with 24 points, buried a 3-pointer 33 seconds into overtime, but would be the last points his team scored.
"We went out and they jumped on us quick with a 3, but we were able to get stops when we need them," Pelphrey said. "There were a couple of stretches where we were down one and we got a couple of stops that we needed. Some guys came up big for us defensively and we were able to score on the other end."
Clarke's jumper at the four-minute mark cut it to 62-61, but that would be the last points by either of the teams until the final 20 seconds.
That was when Clarke made a bad pass, stole the ball back and buried a 3-pointer to put Arkansas up 64-62 with 18.4 seconds left.
Missouri State had three shots to tie it, but came up empty on all 3 and Clarke hit two free throws with 1.8 showing to seal the win.
That sent the Razorback fans home happy in a crowd that was about 60 percent home fans and 40 percent rooting for the visitors.
"It was awesome and that is a tribute to our fan base," Clarke said. "Missouri State had a lot, too, from what we could hear. We just thank the fans for coming out and supporting us and hopefully we can get them excited and get some win going in because we are going to need them for some of these tough games coming up. We appreciated it."
The win over Missouri State was the start of a stretch of games against four teams that were 39-2 entering the week.
"It was huge for us," Clarke said. "That is basically all we talked about is being able to finish off strong. We were just focused on getting our seventh win and going into the Christmas break knowing we have some momentum going in. That is what we really needed.
"Missouri State is probably the best team we played, but we know we have got some really, really tough opponents coming up and we have got to get mentally ready for that," Clarke said.