FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas didn’t have any seniors to recognize Saturday before the final home game in Bud Walton this season.
The Razorbacks didn’t have their two leading scorers — who may have played their final regular-season home games at Arkansas — in the starting lineup, either.
It didn’t keep the Razorbacks from wrapping up one of their most successful seasons at home, though, beating Texas A&M 73-62 in front of announced crowd of 14,026.
Arkansas (19-12, 10-8 Southeastern Conference) turned in an erratic performance, but still managed more than enough to beat a Texas A&M team playing without injured leading scorer Elston Turner in the regular season finale. The win helped the Razorbacks cap a 17-1 record in Bud Walton Arena this season and finish unbeaten at home in SEC play for just the fourth time in school history and the first since 1998.
“That means a lot,” Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade said. “It means we are getting better. We are taking care of home like we are supposed to do. Once we get it done here everything else will just fall in place and that leads into other big things as far as the road. I am proud of these guys. They worked hard all season. I was proud to go undefeated for these guys.”
Wade led the way by scoring a team-high 14 points. He was one of five players to reach double-figures, helping the Razorbacks win even though leading scorer BJ Young’s was limited to career lows of two points in 11 minutes.
He also helped Arkansas finish above .500 in conference play for the first time in five seasons. The Razorbacks wrapped up the No. 7 seed for the SEC Tournament and will play No. 10 seed Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson believes his team will take some momentum into the postseason, too, after bouncing back from Tuesday’s 30-point loss at Missouri.
“I think we’ve got a little momentum,” Anderson said. “Now everybody is on a neutral site. I think our team … I do. I like it. We’ve got the right mindset. Defensively, I think we’ve been doing some good things.”
But it wasn’t a perfect postseason sendoff by any means.
The finale started with a new-look Arkansas lineup. Young and Marshawn Powell, the Razorbacks top two leading scorers, were on the bench for what Anderson alluded to as disciplinary reasons. But the starting group of Wade, Fred Gulley, Coty Clarke, Hunter Mickelson and Michael Qualls helped the Razorbacks jump out to a great start.
Numerous turnovers pushed Texas A&M (17-14, 7-11) into a 31-13 hole with 6:52 left in the first half. The Aggies wouldn’t go away, though, leaning on guards Fabyon Harris (16 points) and Jordan Green (14) to survive Arkansas’ initial crush.
Texas A&M managed to pull to within 33-26 at halftime and moved as close as four points early in the second half before the Razorbacks settled down.
“I think we kind of started playing like we had already won the game,” Wade said of Arkansas’ lapse. “Our energy level was done and coach made a couple of substitutions and those got back and fought and got back into the game. …
“We can’t get comfortable out there and that is one of those things that some times we tend to do and that is get comfortable. We can’t get comfortable.”
Qualls played a big role in a 13-2 run that helped the Razorbacks push its lead back to 16 points. He scored five points during the stretch — all from the free-throw line — during a night in which he scored eight of his 13 points from the stripe.
“That Missouri loss, it left a bad taste in my mouth,” Qualls said. “In a certain point of time, it’s got to get personal to you. No one likes to lose and if you want to do big things you can’t accept losing. … So, I just wanted to be on the attack and get to the line because in a lot of games that we lose we get beat on the free-throw line.”
But Texas A&M struck back once again. The Aggies pulled as close as 64-58 with 1:46 remaining before Wade made two plays that wrapped up the win.
The first came when Wade sprinted downcourt and pulled in a long pass from Powell for a driving layup, giving the Hogs a 66-58 lead. Then, a steal by guard Kikko Haydar resulted in two free throws for the Wade. The junior knocked down both to push Arkansas’ lead to 68-58 with 1:02 remaining.
Arkansas went 4 for 5 from the free-throw line the rest of the way to secure the win. The Razorbacks — who were 4 for 15 from the stripe in the first meeting between the teams — went 28 for 36 from the line Saturday.
“We were attacking,” Anderson said. “We didn’t settle for jump shots. … A lot of teams have been getting to the line more than we have and we’re an attacking team. So we’ve got to get back to that mindset where we’re attacking. (Saturday) we did.”
Arkansas grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, force 23 turnovers and turned the mistakes into 22 points Saturday. It helped the Razorbacks overcome shaky shooting, going 19 for 50 (38 percent) from the floor.
Young equaled his career-low with two points in a career-low 11 minutes. The sophomore, who is expected to take a long look at the NBA Draft after the season, only played four minutes in the second half after scoring 27 points at Missouri.
Anderson chalked up his absence as teammates playing better in the second half.
Powell finished with 10 points in 24 minutes after opening the game on the bench as well. Both players heard chants of “one more year” from the student section during Saturday’s game. Powell’s smiles and wave to the crowd after receiving a standing ovation as he checked out in the final seconds were signs that may not happen.
However, Anderson didn’t want to comment on either’s future after the home win.
Instead, Arkansas will now prepare for its SEC Tournament opener against the Commodores. Vanderbilt (14-16, 8-10) and the Razorbacks split the season series and will meet in the tournament for the first time since 2008.
“I think we’ve still got a lot of basketball left,” Anderson said.