A season after falling victim to the comeback bug, Arkansas is taking on the role of the comeback kids.
That trend continued Wednesday night as the Razorbacks overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to beat Georgia 72-68 at Stegeman Coliseum and log their third consecutive come-from-behind win. It's the first time since 2006 Arkansas has won back-to-back road games in the SEC.
"I told the guys at halftime that tonight isn't going to be our night," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "I said we're not going to get it done so let's just keep it respectable, and they all got riled up. It hit their buttons and they came out in a rage. In the second half it was a different basketball team."
It was much different, indeed.
Arkansas (11-11, 4-3 SEC) scored a season-worst 22 first half points and trailed 37-22 at the break. But the Razorbacks turned their attention to defense in the second half, turning up the pressure on the Bulldogs, who committed 11 turnovers in the final 20 minutes.
Arkansas finished the game with 27 points off 17 Georgia miscues.
"Our defense was better," Pelphrey said. "When you can score a couple of baskets it energizes you to play better defense. The thing I was most impressed with was the attitude of these young men. It all started with Mike Washington and then Courtney Fortson, and the next thing you know the team was rallying together. I loved their spirit in the second half. There are things we have to do to play better but this was good for us."
Fortson was the driving force behind the Arkansas rally. Less than a week after scoring 33 second half points in a win over Mississippi State, the sophomore guard scored 19 of his game-high 27 points after halftime to beat the SEC's other set of Bulldogs.
Fortson continued his hot streak from the free throw line, hitting 12 of 16, including five crucial tosses in the final 39 seconds.
"It's just repetition; I've been working on it every day in practice," Fortson said. "It's really become natural."
Fortson hit the go-ahead basket for Arkansas with 3:28 remaining to give the Razorbacks a 63-62 lead.
Arkansas had extended its lead to 68-66 when Fortson made the game's biggest defensive play, coming up with a loose ball and sinking a pair of free throws to give the Hogs a four-point lead with 21 seconds to play.
Arkansas took the lead and extended despite Fortson, Washington (15 points, 8 rebounds) and Marshawn Powell (11 points, 9 rebounds) playing the final 4:43 with four fouls apiece.
"Defensive pressure is something we've been focusing on," Fortson said. "I think it's one of the keys to our success with not letting guards run their plays."
Trey Thompkins, who finished with a team-high 21 points, helped keep the Bulldogs close. Georgia (9-11, 1-6) had a chance to tie the game late but Ricky McPhee missed a 3-pointer with eight seconds left to eliminate any chance to send the game into overtime.
An extra frame was something Georgia couldn't have fathomed heading into the locker rooms. The Bulldogs used a 15-0 run to take control of the game after Arkansas had jumped to a quick five-point lead and finished the half on a 14-4 run when Razorback guard Marcus Britt's 3-point shot at the buzzer was waived off.
"I didn't think we played well in the first half," Pelphrey said. "We looked really tired. I was afraid all the traveling and the short rest would get us.
"It was a complete role reversal in the second half. It was good to see the guys respond how they did against Georgia, who has been playing really well."
Arkansas' win coupled with a Mississippi State loss at Vanderbilt has moved the Razorbacks into a first place tie atop the SEC West.
Arkansas will put that to the test Saturday when it hosts Auburn at 12:30 p.m. inside Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas 72, Georgia 68
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