FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ Rickey Scott walked to the sideline, gasping for air before lying down in an attempt to catch his breath.
And that was less than 4 minutes into the Razorbacks’ shocking 80-69 victory over No. 2 Florida on Tuesday night, giving second-year coach Mike Anderson the signature win had he been looking for in an electric Bud Walton Arena.
BJ Young led three players in double figures with 13 points as the Razorbacks (14-8, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) opened quickly and never let up, fueled by a raucous crowd of 13,816. It was an energy-filled arena that reminded Anderson of the Arkansas of old — when he was an assistant to former coach Nolan Richardson when the Razorbacks were among the nation’s best, winning the 1994 national championship.
“If I gave two game balls tonight, one would certainly go to our fans,” Anderson said. “This place was lively tonight. It brought back a lot of memories for myself, especially sitting on that bench and seeing our fans so engaged in the game.”
The win improves the Razorbacks to 14-1 at home this season, and it snaps a 10-game winning streak for the Gators — who had ascended to the No. 2 spot in The AP Top 25 one day earlier.
Arkansas opened the game 15 of 20 from the field. Michael Qualls and Marshawn Powell added 11 points each and 11 players scored for the Razorbacks in their first win over a top 10 team since early in 2008-09.
Mike Rosario led Florida (18-3, 8-1) with 15 points, while Scottie Wilbekin added 14, Michael Frazier 11 and Kennny Boynton 10. The Gators hit just 4 of their first 15 shots, 7 of 24 in the first half, and never recovered in suffering their first loss since a 67-61 setback at Kansas State on Dec. 22.
That loss was also the most points Florida had allowed in a game this season before Tuesday night.
“Clearly we did not play the level of defense that we had played,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “A combination of I didn’t think we did a very good job and a combination of I thought they did do a very good job.
“They made some shots there early in the game and got themselves going.”
After trailing by as many as 23 points in the first half, the Gators cut the lead to 43-26 at halftime.
The Razorbacks didn’t give Florida a chance to come up for air to open the second half, forcing turnovers on two straight possessions to open the second half and extending the lead 49-26 following a jumper by Qualls.
Florida had one final run in it — responding with an 11-2 stretch to cut the deficit to 51-37 after an inside basket by Frazier.
The Gators did close the lead to 11 points, but by then it was too late against an Arkansas team in desperate need of a signature win, one that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2008. The Razorbacks were then coached by current Florida assistant coach John Pelphrey, who entered Bud Walton Arena to handshakes and hugs Tuesday night before walking off the court with a stunning loss in his second return to his former home.
“They had that lead and we just kept trying to chip away, but they kept coming at us and eventually time just ran out,” Florida’s Erik Murphy said.
The win was Arkansas’ first over a team ranked in the top 10 since victories over No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 7 Texas early in 2008-09, Pelphrey’s second season.
Anderson took over last season, and his previous best win was over then-No. 15 Mississippi State. Tuesday’s game was the third in six days for the Razorbacks, who have yet to win a game away from home this season.
“They were ready to play,” Anderson said. “And I don’t think it was just one game. Hopefully, I think, they want to continue to build on what’s been taking place with this team.”
Hunter Mickelson responded to Florida’s second-half run with a putback for the Razorbacks, beginning a 16-3 run that opened the lead to 67-40 and put the game well out of reach. Coty Clarke closed out the run in emphatic fashion for Arkansas, flying high on the fast break to put down a one-handed dunk off an alley-oop pass from Ky Madden.
Arkansas, whose only home loss this season was to No. 9 Syracuse, owned the first half. The Razorbacks entered the game 12th in the SEC in 3-point shooting at 29.8 percent, but they opened the game 5 of 6 from behind the arc and built a 36-13 lead midway through the half.
Mardracus Wade and Young hit 3-pointers in the half for Arkansas, which easily sent Florida to its largest deficit of the season at 36-13. The most the Gators had trailed before Tuesday was 11 points in the first half of the loss to Kansas State.
Florida’s winning streak was the school’s longest since 2008-09. That included four straight SEC road games, and the Gators were attempting to win five straight conference games away from home for the first time in a season.
The Razorbacks scored 21 points off 16 Florida turnovers, and their bench outscored Florida 40-12. Clarke finished with nine points for Arkansas, while Mickelson and Madden each added eight as the Razorbacks finished 28 of 57 (49.1 percent) from the field.
“This is our house, so we’re used to shooting in it,” Powell said. “… It’s just showing us what we can do. I mean, of course, we’ve got to take it on the road, but it just shows you the level of potential that we have and how hard we work every day.”
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