The mood surrounding Arkansas basketball for most of the season resembles that of the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge for most Razorback fans. In the case of each of those principal characters, something good happened to turn their rotten dispositions around and make them very happy in the end.
Razorback players gave Arkansas fans an early Christmas present this week that they hope will have a similar effect on the Razorback Nation's outlook on the basketball program.
So far this season, the Hogs had given fans very little to cheer for and because of that, Razorback fans were prepared for Missouri State, and what most believed to be another loss dropping the Hogs to 6-6.
Instead, the young Razorback squad had their best performance of the season in front of the “best” crowd of the year at Bud Walton Arena—estimated just below 11,000.
The Razorbacks battled the Bears in a physical game that had fans involved from the opening tip. Elbows were thrown, and hard fouls were made.
Arkansas took a two-point halftime lead, and opened the second half extremely well. The Hogs extended the lead to as much as 11 points in the second half.
However, Missouri State surged back and made a last second bucket to force the game into overtime. At this moment, the Grinches and Scrooges of the Razorback Nation were hard at work talking down the Hogs.
In the final portion of the second half and the overtime period, Rotnei Clarke stole the show—scoring the final 12 points for the Hogs. Clarke’s clutch shooting gave the Razorbacks the win and moved them to 7-5 and extended the Hogs winning streak to five games.
To the shock of Grinches and Scrooges everywhere in the Razorback Nation, their frowns began to turn to smiles, and they felt the tiny pumping of their excited heart beat for the first time this season.
Heading into the Christmas break, this gives the Hogs a boost in confidence and an early Christmas present to all the Hog fans out there.
The Hogs will not be able to savor this one long, because right after Christmas break the Hogs will face off with Baylor, UAB, and No. 2 Texas. Each of these teams will play the Hogs just as physical or more so than Missouri State did Tuesday night.
In the win, the Hogs got a huge boost from freshman forward Glenn Bryant. Bryant was a rebounding machine, and made some highlight blocks for the Razorbacks. His energy seemed contagious throughout the team and with the fans. It was his best performance of the season even if he only scored five points.
Bryant was thrust into the game with Michael Washington in foul trouble, and then again late in the game Bryant was relied on when Washington fouled out. Following the game Bryant said that this was an early Christmas present.
The Hogs got contributions from all of their players in this win. Freshman point guard Julysses Nobles was the only player that played not to score a bucket for the Hogs Tuesday night.
While the Hogs showed heart and determination that should win them more games if they continue that way, they also showed some sloppy play evidence of the youthful makeup of this team and what has plagued them all season.
Turnovers were a huge problem, and the reason the Hogs did not put Missouri State away when they had the chance after building their 11 point second half lead.
Three-point shooting was also off Tuesday night for both teams, but when the Hogs needed it late, Clarke was able to come up in the clutch and win the game.
However, the Hogs did not let their miscues keep them from winning this game. The Hogs huddled up just before Clarke made the game winning three-point basket, and all pounded their chests as they broke the huddle to run their play. This emotion and desire is what is going to win Razorback fans back, and get Bud Walton Arena rocking again.
Coach John Pelphrey was visibly pumped following the game—as were the players and fans—as they celebrated a great overtime win over a previously undefeated team (one of only eight that remained prior to Tuesday night in Div. I).
Pelphrey wants fans to remain optimistic with the Hogs on this five-game winning streak, but also to understand that the Hogs have a long way to go.
The Hogs performance was by far their best of the season, which resulted in their best win of the season. The crowd was the "best" of the season, and played a large role in the energy in Bud Walton Arena.
This win is the best early Christmas present any Razorback fan or member of the program could ask for, and hopefully is a sign that the Hogs best is yet to come.
Image Courtesy of ArkansasRazorbacks.com
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