The University of Arkansas got their starting point guard back and he played splendidly on Tuesday night.
Problem for the Razorbacks was that the University of Texas' trio of projected first-round NBA draft picks also showed up and did their thing – with a little help from their friends.
Dexter Pittman had 21 points and 10 rebounds and Damion James 20 points and 9 rebounds as the two seniors powered undefeated and No. 2 University of Texas to a 96-85 win over Arkansas before a season-high 12.865 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Rotnei Clarke had 24 points while his backcourt mate Courtney Fortson had 19 points and 7 assists in his season debut for the Razorbacks (7-8).
"I think Texas is a tremendous basketball team," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "We fought really, really hard and competed. I knew we would. We have all the way along through…This loss was certainly not from a lack of effort… Both teams competed at a very high level and when you flinch against really good teams and players, they will capitalize."
Marshawn Powell added 18 points and 6 rebounds and foul-plagued Michael Washington 14 points in a rematch of last season's UA upset of then No. 4 UT – also at Bud Walton Arena.
The Longhorns responded with a 11-2 run to start the second half after the game was tied 48-48 at intermission.
"The first half, they did what they wanted to do," Texas head coach Rick Barnes said of Arkansas. "We didn't guard them very well. The start of the second half was when we really I thought got the game where we wanted to go with our defense."
Gary Johnson added 16 points and 7 rebounds while freshman Avery Bradley- the third projected number one pick – added 12 points and 5 assists for the Longhorns (14-0).
Texas shot 58 percent from the field and out-rebounded Arkansas, but led by just 84-82 with just over two minutes left.
"If you look at numbers, we were probably lucky the game was as close as it was," Pelphrey said. "They shot 57 percent in the first half, 60 percent in the second half. I don't know how we made enough plays to keep it close because we had a difficult time stopping them."
Having Fortson, who averaged 14.8 points and nearly six assists last season, back after missing the first 14 games due to personal issues certainly helped in that regard.
He was 5-of-16 from the field, 2 of 7 from 3-point range while nailing 7 of his 9 free throws, grabbing 3 rebounds, having a couple of steals and having 6 turnovers, several of them late when he looked tired from playing 33 minutes.
"I thought he did well," Pelphrey said. "I thought he had some great passes. I thought he got us a few lay-ups because we space the floor and he sees where guys are and gets it to them for lay-ups. I thought late in the game, he also made some defensive plays, showed some toughness and had a couple of big rebounds. I don't think he is in game shape right now, but I think he did very well."
Johnson had a huge old-fashioned 3-point play after the Razorbacks had cut a 68-57 deficit with 14:05 left in the game down to just a two-point one.
That occurred when Clarke hit two free throws to cut it to 72-70 with just over 8 minutes remaining.
Although Arkansas nearly had a steal, Johnson grabbed a loose ball and got the hoop and the harm and to push it back to 75-70.
The Razorbacks still had a shot when Clarke buried a 3-pointer and Powell a free throw to cut it 84-82 with 2:27 remaining.
However, James scored 8 of his team's last 12 points to put the game away.
""That's what I'm supposed to do," James said. "I wasn't going to let us lose."
Pittman was a beast inside to deal with and had 8 offensive rebounds among his 10 total.
"I know my teammates depend on me to get plays like that," Pittman said. "Finish strong."
Powell is 6-7, 225 so he was giving up nearly 70 pounds when he had to guard him with Washington in foul trouble.
"It was a like a little point guard trying to battle Shaq," Powell said. "It's impossible. He's a man. He's so strong. I just tried to play defense and do the best I could."
Fortson certainly gave his team a spark and the Razorbacks got out to a 35-29 when Delvon Johnson scored with 7:57 remaining in the opening half.
Fortson's 3-pointer late in the half and a basket by Clarke sent the game to the half deadlocked 48-48.
Clarke had 16 points, Powell 12 and Fortson 10 at intermission.
"Obviously Courtney Fortson is a very talented player," Texas Coach Rick Barnes said. "The first half, we gave him way too many rim shots. He went by us a few times like we weren't there. You've got to give him credit for that. I thought he handled himself pretty well."
Pittman and James combined to score all of their team's points in an 11-2 run to start the second half.
"When you start making some shots, it all looks pretty," Barnes said. "We got the ball tonight where we wanted to get it."
While SEC action gets underway on Saturday, Arkansas has an open date.
The Razorbacks will return to the court a week from Thursday at Mississippi State before hosting Alabama two days later.
"Our greatest challenges lie ahead," Pelphrey said. "Our league is outstanding. There are a lot of good players, lot of good coaches. I certainly would have liked to have had our whole basketball team share this same experience through the non-conference of having everybody there, but we didn't have that. So we are going to take what is in front of us and go one day at a time, one foot in front of the other and see how much we can improve before our next game."
No. 2 Texas 96, Arkansas 85
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