FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell didn’t go to sleep until 6:30 a.m. after his scoreless performance at Texas A&M on Wednesday night.
The junior was frustrated by one of the worst outings of his career. It was eating at him. So Powell said he spent most of the night watching film of past performances, looking for clues to figure out a way to bounce back against Vanderbilt.
“One thing came to my mind, it was just every time I ended up playing good, I started off real, real fast,” Powell said. “If I started off real early, asserted (myself), we always came out with a ‘W.’ So that’s what I tried to do here (Saturday).”
Powell succeeded during Arkansas’ 56-33 win against the Commodores (6-8, 0-2 in Southeastern Conference) in front of an announced crowd of 11,526 in Bud Walton Arena. He scored the Razorbacks’ first eight points, netted 12 of their 21 in the first half, and finished with a game-high 17 on 8 of 9 shooting.
It made him one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise ugly offensive performance from both teams Saturday night. More important, it also helped Arkansas (10-5, 1-1 in SEC) get back on track after an awful start to conference play at Texas A&M.
“Early on he did the things he’s been doing all year long,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “I thought he did a good job of really making them find him, facing up as opposed to just with his back to the basket. We got him in the open court.
“His versatility is big because he can score and he can put it on the floor.”
Powell was sharp from the opening tip, making his first four shots to give the Razorbacks an early 8-1 lead. He collected the game’s first bucket on a steal and dunk, which set the theme of the first half.
Vanderbilt, which has struggled to score all season, had more trouble than usual getting off shots against the Razorbacks’ pressure defense. The Commodores committed 13 turnovers in the half and shot 20 percent (3-for-15) from the field.
Arkansas couldn’t exactly take advantage of the woes, though.
Powell’s 12 points at halftime led the way, but the rest of the Razorbacks managed nine points on 4 of 20 shooting (20 percent). It didn’t help that guard BJ Young scored two points in eight minutes because of early foul trouble.
Arkansas did lead 21-11 at the break and Vanderbilt’s point total was the fewest the Razorbacks had allowed in a half since Florida A&M scored 11 during the 2010-11 season. But Arkansas’ 21 points also was its lowest in a first half this season.
“I feel like I’ve seen a lot of first halves like that this year with our team. We’ve struggled to score all season long,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Some of that was their defense, hopefully some of them missing was our defense. But nevertheless … the ugliness probably was more attributable to us. We probably uglied them down. So probably give us credit for the ugly.”
Young made sure that changed early in the second half, when he returned to the court and scored Arkansas’ first 12 points. Like Powell in the first half, the sophomore guard asserted himself with several buckets in transition.
His final basket during the spurt — and in the game — gave Young 14 points and helped Arkansas take a 33-17 lead with 15:26 left.
“He probably had a lot of offense built up in him since he sat out and only played 8 minutes in the first half,” Anderson said. “But if you notice with the way the game was going, it was up tempo. The game was flowing at that particular time and he was able to get into the gaps. He had a couple of nice pull-up shots. Had a couple of nice assists. So, again, he’s a guy that’s focused on helping this team win.”
Powell then got involved to help Arkansas push the lead up over 20 points. He knocked down a 3-pointer on the Razorbacks’ next possession, then stole the inbounds pass and laid it in for two more points and a 38-17 lead.
“I’ve just got to stay out of foul trouble, man,” Powell said of the difference against Vanderbilt. “If I stay out of foul trouble and attack the basket hard and keep a positive attitude, then the skies the limit for us. We’ll get ‘W’s like this.”
Powell also grabbed a team-high six rebounds and recorded a career-high six steals.
Arkansas forced 26 turnovers, turning Vanderbilt’s mistakes into 23 points.
“We had a lot of defensive pressure,” Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar said. “Marshawn and, really, everybody that came in was touching basketballs. That’s a big stat for us — deflections. We had a lot of deflections and energy and that’s going to rattle teams. Bud Walton getting loud, people don’t like that. People don’t like pressure.”
Vanderbilt came very close to turning in the lowest point total in school history, slipping past its 31-point performance against Mississippi State in 1982. The Commodores also scored 33 points in a 17-point loss to Marist earlier this season.
The 33 points also was the lowest Arkansas has allowed in an SEC game since entering the conference in 1991-92. The previous low came during the 1996-97 season, when Auburn scored 42 points against the Razorbacks.
Anderson said it was an important effort for his team, which leaned on Powell to get started in the opening minutes and counted on its defense throughout to grab a win.
“It was a good bounce back game,” Anderson said. “I thought our guys played with a lot of energy, a lot of focus. Defensively we were just really engaged. To me that’s Arkansas basketball. Just stifling and not letting Vanderbilt get very comfortable.”