Vanderbilt was prepared for Rotnei Clarke. It didn’t matter.
The Commodores weren’t ready for Michael Sanchez. That did matter.
The Arkansas duo of Clarke and Sanchez combined for 56 points as No. 19 Vanderbilt was stunned with an 89-78 defeat Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 14,316 at Memorial Gymnasium, where the Commodores had won 11 straight.
Clarke dropped a season-high 36 points (he was 6-of-8 on 3-pointers) and Sanchez came off the bench to score a career-high 20. The Razorbacks shot 57.4 percent — the best mark at Memorial by an opposing team in three years.
“They were phenomenal,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “They beat us at every turn and certainly deserved to win. We are disappointed. We don’t think we played very well and we don’t think we played well in every facet of the game.”
Clarke wasn’t a secret to Vanderbilt. He entered the game ranked fourth in the Southeastern Conference with 2.7 3-pointers per game and the ability to go off if he gets the space — his career-high is 13 3-pointers in a single contest.
The 6-foot guard really broke loose in the second half, making five 3-pointers and getting away from Vanderbilt defenders off screens and pump fakes.
“I guess now I know what it feels like when guys are chasing me. It is definitely tough,” Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins, the SEC's leading scorer, said. “When you got a guy like that making shots, pretty much whenever he wanted to, it is pretty tough. He is a great player.”
Sanchez, on the other hand, flew under the radar. He entered the game averaging just 2.1 points. It was just his ninth game after missing the first 11 games due to a stress fracture.
The 6-foot-9, 236-pound forward didn’t back down against Vanderbilt (15-5, 3-3 SEC) and went right at 6-11 Festus Ezeli on numerous occasions. Most of the time he was successful. He was 8-of-12 from the field.
“He just attacked me. He attacked me on the drive. I should have been better with that,” Ezeli said. “He started off in the first half and it was working so they kept going to him. I had a bad effort with that. I’ve got to work on that.”
Arkansas (14-6, 4-3) took a 43-36 lead into halftime after Julysses Nobles hit a step-back jumper with seconds left. After the break, Jenkins cut it to 49-45 with a 3-pointer at the top of the key with 17:05 left.
Arkansas stayed firm, though, going on a 16-4 run, which included three straight 3-pointers (two from Clarke and one from Nobles). The spurt was capped off by an alley-oop slam dunk from Nobles to Glenn Bryant, who was fouled and made the free throw to complete the 3-point play. With 12:07 left, it gave the Razorbacks their largest lead of the game — 65-49 — and Vanderbilt its largest deficit this season.
The Commodores cut the margin to eight points on four different occasions but Arkansas answered on the very next possession each time. Clarke’s sixth 3-pointer did Vanderbilt in, pushing the advantage to 82-71 with three minutes to go.
“I don’t know if it was their offense or our bad defense but they were definitely hitting shots either way,” Jenkins said. “It was kind of crazy, actually. They were just hitting everything. We tried to get stops but they just kept on pounding inside or getting fouls and converting their free throws. I guess it was one of those nights for them.”
The two teams combined for 54 free-throw attempts, with Arkansas hitting 20-of-28 and Vanderbilt making 25-of-26.
Jenkins was 10-for-10 from the free-throw line and finished with a team-high 24 points.
Vanderbilt didn’t shoot poorly either. The Commodores made 46.9 percent of their shots and had four players finish in double figures. Ezeli added 18 and Jeffery Taylor scored 13 — cooling off from his 25-point performance against Mississippi State on Thursday. Rod Odom came off the bench and had 12 points, all in the second half.
It was a short turnaround for the Commodores, who played on Thursday, while Arkansas hadn’t played since a win against Auburn on Tuesday. Stallings, however, wouldn’t use the little rest as a cop-out. His squad just wasn’t ready.
“We have no excuses,” Stallings said. “The game was scheduled today at 5 [p.m.]. We got to be ready at 5 to play. We weren’t ready enough to play.”
• Lance Goulbourne and Brad Tinsley went down with injuries late in the first half.
Goulbourne appeared to step on an Arkansas defender’s foot and hurt his left ankle. Tinsley injured his right ankle after coming down hard on a made layup.
Both players returned, with Goulbourne going scoreless in 17 minutes of action and Tinsley scoring eight points in 32 minutes.
• Both coaching staffs were sporting sneakers to go along with their suits as a part of the seventh annual Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend.
College basketball coaches across the country joined in on Saturday to support the initiative of the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Since 1993, Coaches vs. Cancer participants have raised more than $60 million to help the American Cancer Society in its mission to find a cure for cancer.
• Prior to the game, a moment of silence was held in memory of Curline Meriwether, the mother of senior walk-on guard Chris Meriwether. Curline died of a heart attack on Monday. She was 56. She leaves behind, Chris, an older son, Jeremy, and her husband, Chuck.
Chris, who went to Father Ryan High School and did not make the trip to Mississippi State on Thursday, was back in on the Commodores’ bench on Saturday. Chuck and Jeremy weren’t too far away, sitting in the first row.
“It was hard for me to even see Chris come back. That was just really hard for me to even look at,” Jenkins said. “Before the game it was kind of like ‘Dang.’ But we had to focus on the game at hand.”
• Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin, along with several members of his coaching staff, were on hand for the game, along with a handful of high school recruits. National Signing Day is this Wednesday.
Vanderbilt will hold a celebration, which is open to the public, in the Board of Trust Room at the Student Life Center on Wednesday. The doors open at 5:30 p.m., with a reception and meet and greet with Franklin and his coaching staff. Franklin will follow with remarks on this year’s signing class.