FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Coty Clarke had hoped to do his best just to fit in for a new-look Arkansas.
The junior-college transfer did much more than that in his debut, scoring 20 points to lead the Razorbacks to a 73-68 win over Sam Houston State on Friday night.
The 6-foot-7 Clarke came off the bench and was 5 of 9 from the field and 10 of 12 on free throws — helping the Razorbacks (1-0) overcome a 36-23 rebounding disadvantage. Clarke's performance also helped Arkansas avoid what would have been an embarrassing loss to open its second season under coach Mike Anderson.
"I felt kind of good coming out," Clarke said. "I know I was coming off the bench, so I just got to see what the other team was doing and just had to play my role and do my part."
The Razorbacks played without last season's leading scorer, BJ Young, who was suspended earlier in the week for two games for a violation of team rules. While the sophomore guard was dressed in street clothes on the bench, Arkansas received a boost from another familiar face.
Marshawn Powell, in his return after missing most of last season with a torn ACL in his right knee, had 14 points for the Razorbacks. The junior had played sparingly in a summer exhibition series in Italy — and he took part in the exhibition games — but no amount of practice had the former first-team All- Southeastern Conference selection prepared for his return to game action.
"It felt weird, to be honest," Powell said. "I (haven't) played a real, real official game that counted for something in I don't know how many months. It felt good, though."
Arkansas had cruised throughout the preseason, winning a pair of exhibition games by an average of 47 points. The Bearkats (0-1) provided a much stiffer challenge on Friday night, led by Darius Gatson's 20 points on 4 of 6 3-point shooting.
Sam Houston State held an 18-12 rebounding edge at halftime, and the margin widened in the second half, leading to 14 second-chance points. James Thomas had several putbacks in the first half for the Bearkats, finishing with 14 points, while DeMarcus Gatlin also finished in double figures with 10 points.
The Southland Conference-member Bearkats were 13-18 last season, but they added six transfers and two freshmen in the offseason. They appeared anything but intimidated by the Razorbacks, even after a Michael Qualls dunk pushed Arkansas' lead to 68-57 with 3:45 remaining.
"There's definitely not anything as a moral victory," Sam Houston State coach James Hooten said. "We came up here on a bus for eight hours to win a basketball game and didn't get it done tonight. I was happy with our effort, which I think that's something this team will always do."
Arkansas led by as many as 13 points in the first half, but Gatson sparked a 9-0 run late in the first half with a pair of 3-pointers. Sam Houston State closed the Razorbacks' lead to 46-43 in the second half after a 3-pointer by Marquel McKinney before Arkansas pulled away behind a 26-of-32 effort at the free-throw line.
Clarke led the performance by hitting his first nine foul shots.
A reloaded Arkansas team played five new players Friday night in its second season under Anderson. The game, however, had a similar feel to last season — when the Razorbacks were outrebounded by a SEC-worst 3.8 rebounds per game.
"They wanted it more," Anderson said. "I thought they just took the fight to our guys, and that's something we're certainly going to work on. We're a much, much better rebounding team than that."
Powell, who averaged 19.5 points in two games last season before his injury, looked completely healthy in his return to the lineup. The junior played 28 minutes and had five rebounds and a pair of blocks and steals.
"It was good to see Marshawn out there, especially down the stretch," Anderson said. "I think Marshawn can be a calming force for this basketball team, with so many new guys out there."
Hunter Mickelson added 11 points for the Razorbacks, whose bench outscored the Bearkats 32-12. Arkansas forced 19 turnovers while committing only nine.