It was the first loss of the year for the Mountaineers (5-1), who ran into a hot shooting team that made 23 of 43 shots overall and the first 17 of their 21 total free throws. Arkansas also made 41.2 percent of its three-pointers, while WVU missed 23 of 32, some that were open looks. Point guard Darris Nichols, who led West Virginia with 15 points and four assists, made a team-best three threes. Joe Alexander added 14 points and Alex Ruoff scored 12. Arkansas was led by forward Sonny Weems' 19 points, the most scored by any player against WVU this season. His three-point play off the press break put UA up by seven after the late rally.
"We would have had to play a more efficient game to win, and by that I mean shoot 32 percent from three-point range and convert on some fast breaks," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "Then maybe it is a nail-biter at the end. We will learn from this."
West Virginia – hurt all game by Weems and fellow forward Charles Thomas, who scored 13 points – had seemingly figured Arkansas out by the half. Though down 35-28, the Mountaineers began to play with confidence. They matched the Razorbacks score for score for the first dozen baskets or free throws, but a lack of ability to finish drives and miscommunications in the man defense led to an 8-0 UA run that put it ahead 55-40 with 10 minutes left in the game.
The inside-outside play during the stretch showcased the differences in the teams in the game. Vincent Hunter drove from the baseline into the 1-3-1 zone, drawing a hard foul from Jamie Smalligan. He hit both shots. Devan Bawinkel, conversely, drove a crowded lane for WVU on the next possession, but short-armed a jumper. It was rebounded with one arm by Alexander, who began to fall as he brought it down. The ball came out and Arkansas went down and hit a three-pointer to lead 52-40 with 10:55 remaining. Nichols then got stuffed driving the lane, and Arkansas hit another three for a 15-point advantage, its seventh three-pointer in 15 attempts to that point.
"It was a few minor things," Alexander said. "They had a heck of a shooting night and we didn't. Someone would foul them during a shot or on the floor. It was little things, but it made the difference. I feel better about his team than I did coming into the tournament. But I don't feel good about this game."
West Virginia failed to win its third three-game in-season championship in a row since the 1998 Sweet 16 team won the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico. WVU did win the Hispanic College Find Classic, a two-game tournament, in 2000. It was beaten 38-18 on the boards and managed just one individual offensive rebound in the first half.
"Rebounding was huge the way we commanded the board," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "That and the way we could get high percentage shots from the three-point line and the foul line. Today was one of our best team performances. We attacked vertically and got into the gaps and seams in their defense. We thought some sports in their zone were vulnerable."
Arkansas showed early how it would play WVU's 1-3-1 zone, which had forced 119 turnovers through the first five games ands recorded 17 in the game, five off its season average. The Razorbacks used a series of passes, the first going to the wing and the second to drop the ball down into the corner. In WVU's 1-3-1, that pulls the far side wing defender into the low block. Arkansas then simply threw a pass over top the entire zone for an open three-pointer. The set worked multiple times in the first five minutes until Frank Young began to recover more quickly. By then, Arkansas had used two three-pointers and its dominant inside prescience – it had also had two put-backs while WVU had recorded no individual offensive rebounds – on both ends to lead 16-7 with 13 minutes left in the opening half.
WVU cut the leads to 16-14 with a 7-0 run, then went cold from the field, scoring one field goal in five minutes as Arkansas built a 38-16 edge with 6:34 left in the half via four consecutive free throws that also stemmed from its inside play. The Hogs had already Arkansas recorded two blocks and swatted several passes, forcing WVU to find its offense from the outside and on backdoor cuts. That was a common theme throughout.
"They have a very complex offense," Heath said. "We were going to live with some shots. Some we were not, like the backdoors. We were not sure we would be successful, but we thought we would be better off like that than allowing some other shots."
Like three-pointers. Arkansas continually got a hand in the face of WVU shooters. West Virginia went just four of 15 (26.7 percent) from behind the arc in the first half, its worst single half shooting of the tournament. It missed 18 of 29 overall to that point and had just one individual offensive rebound. The Razorbacks, conversely, had hit 12 of 25 field goals (48 percent) and made all seven free throws in the first 20 minutes. The game began to turn a bit when West Virginia's offense finally began to jumpstart its defense. Down 62-46, Ruoff and Nichols sandwiched three-pointers around four free throws to pull within 64-56.
It got another stop that led to Young's jumper with 1:13 to play. WVU jumped into a full press, causing Arkansas to throw the ball into the backcourt to Da'Sean Butler. Butler got to the line and hit one free throw, then buried a three-pointer for the 66-62 score with 46 seconds left. WVU would have been closer, but guard Patrick Beverley hit two free throws off a foul on the floor with 55 seconds left. Arkansas then used Weems' play to end it.
"We played for the first time as a team today," Thomas said. "This was not an easy win, but it was a more defining win."
Arkansas actually averaged 49.8% from the field and 41.2% from three-point range entering the game and bettered both. WVU was far below its season averages and dropped to 19-25 all-time against current SEC members and 11-10 all-time in games played in Florida.
Young and Nichols were named to the Old Spice Classic All-Tournament team. Beverly and Weems were also on the squad. Jared Jordan or Marist was the fifth player and was named the Most Oustanding after scoring 62 points and dishing 27 assists in three games.
"This film will be great for us," Beilein said. "We can learn from this. If we compartmentalize our season, we have 10 days now before we play North Carolina State. This was a good test for us, and a team more like the Big East."