Goulbourne and Clarke (VM/Stan Jones)
NASHVILLE--Rotnei Clarke put up a season-high 36 points, including six of his team’s seven three-pointers and 20 of his team’s 46 second-half points, as Arkansas dealt Vanderbilt its first home loss of the 2010-2011 season on Saturday afternoon, 89-78.
The Commodores never led after the 13:57 mark of the first half, dropping to 3-3 in Southeastern Conference play less than 48 hours after beating Mississippi State in Starkville. The Razorbacks improved to 4-3 in conference play with a home game against Georgia coming up on Wednesday.
Clarke used a 12-for-16 shooting night to nearly triple his season average of 12.5 points per game. No other Razorback starter finished with more than six points. Five of the junior’s six threes came in the second half to help Arkansas pull away late.
“They got into a real comfort zone against us and thought they could score every time they got the ball, primarily because they did,” said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings of the Razorbacks, who shot 57.4% from the field as a team.
“I guess now I know what it’s like for guys chasing me now,” said sophomore John Jenkins of the defensive challenge that Clarke posed for the Vanderbilt guards. “It’s definitely tough, and when you’ve got a guy like that making shots pretty much whenever he wanted to, it’s pretty tough. He’s a great player.”
Clarke got some help from an unexpected place on Saturday night, as unheralded junior forward Michael Sanchez and the rest of the Arkansas bench came alive to string the visitors’ lead out to double-digits in the second half. Sanchez, who had averaged 2.1 points per game before Saturday’s game, finished with a career-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting in 33 minutes of playing time.
“He just attacked me,” said Festus Ezeli of Sanchez’s play inside. “He attacked me on the drive. I should’ve been better with that. He started off in the first half and it was working so they kept going to him, and I had a bad effort with that, so I have to work on that.”
The Razorbacks finished with 39 bench points in all, while the Commodores had just 15 between its substitutes. Rod Odom scored a career-high 12 points, all in the second half, for Vanderbilt, including two big three-pointers on consecutive possessions down the stretch to help cut the lead to just eight.
Jenkins overcame Clarke’s defensive pressure to lead the Commodores with 24 points, his second-highest scoring total of the season, despite hitting only two three-pointers.
“It’s just something that I guess they’re trying to force me to drive, but I can drive, so I’m just taking that whenever I get it,” Jenkins said of his decisions to go to the basket early on that helped him on his way to a nine-point first half in which he did not miss a shot. “I got some and-ones off of them, so I’m just going to keep doing that.”
Ezeli finished with 18 points and game-highs of seven rebounds and four blocks for the Commodores. After playing just 15 minutes against Mississippi State on Thursday night, the redshirt junior played 32 minutes on Saturday as Vanderbilt made it a point to put pressure on the Razorbacks’ interior defense.
“Ezeli is so good inside, he fouls everybody’s frontcourt out,” said Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey. “We gathered some fouls today, but one of our goals was not to get frustrated, just to hang in there and keep battling.”
The Commodores had not lost in Memorial Gymnasium since March 6th of last year, in the final home game of the regular season against South Carolina, and had not lost by double-digits at home since 2009 against Florida. Vanderbilt heads to Gainesville on Tuesday night for its first game of the year against the Gators before returning home to host the Gamecocks next Saturday afternoon.