By Dennis A. Byrd
By Dennis A. Byrd
Arkansas News Bureau
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — The days of Phi Slamma Jamma may be gone, but — just like Arkansas — the Houston Cougars are a team on the way back.
The Cougars (3-0) caught the Razorbacks (2-1) without leading scorer Marshawn Powell and used a strong start in the second half to craft an 87-78 win Friday at Verizon Arena.
Powell injured a knee in a Thursday practice and will be out for an undetermined length of time. He spent the game on the bench and just behind it in a Razorback jogging suit over a hoodie and a cap. He limped noticeably back and forth around the team’s bench before the game, talking to well-wishers.
“It’s a severe knee injury,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said prior to tipoff. “We’re going to have some further examination done to determine the extent.
“It’s a tremendous loss for a guy who has worked extremely hard to get in the best shape of his career.”
In a postgame interview, Anderson said it is a severe sprain at least and it may be much more. The severity won’t be known until Powell’s knee is examined Monday. Anderson said he could not speculate on when or whether Powell will return.
Kirk Van Slyke, a 6-foot-9 junior playing off the bench, led the Cougars with 19 points and Little Rock Central product Alandise Harris added 18.
The Cougars started the second half with a 23-8 run, making 10 of 15 for a 14-point lead with 13:01 left.
Much of the second half was played with an all-guard lineup for Arkansas. At one point, 6-5 Rashad Madden was the tallest player for Arkansas and 6-7 Jonathon Simmons was the tallest Cougar, although Van Slyke was in most of the second half.
Simmons scored a couple of baskets soon after intermission to put Houston up 42-38 with 17:31 to play. He added a free throw after a timeout for 43-38.
Cougar J.J. Thompson’s jumper out of the first timeout of the second half made it 49-40, the biggest lead until he hit a jumper the next time down for 51-42. Michael Sanchez underneath cut it back to seven at 51-44.
Julysses Nobles was fouled underneath at 11:15 and cut the lead back to a dozen. Van Slyke’s 3-pointer at 10:37 made it 63-49.
Madden missed a pair of free throws, but the Cougars turned it over and Rickey Scott’s drive at 9:46 cut it to 12; then he stole the inbounds pass and layed it in for 63-53 with 9:30 left. Two free throws by Sanchez at 9:18 cut the lead to eight. A Cougar turnover and two free throws at 8:31 by B.J. Young and it was 66-59.
The closest Arkansas got was four on a Nobles’ steal and dunk at 4:15 to cut it to 72-68.
Scott fouled Harris, who scored underneath for 75-68. A free throw made it 76-68.
Arkansas played fast, reminiscent of the Nolan Richardson days as the Razorbacks’ coach.
The story is well-known, but Anderson played for and coached as a volunteer for Richardson at Tulsa, then joined Richardson as an assistant at Arkansas.
“We’re just disappointed we didn’t come away with the win,” Anderson said. He said his freshmen — Rashad Madden, B.J. Young, Hunter Mickelson and Devonta Abron did a lot of good things, but also played like freshmen at time.
Marvell Waithe, a 6-9 senior, started for the Razorbacks in place of Powell. He was joined by Scott, a 6-3 sophomore guard, guard Mardracus Wade (6-3 sophomore) Nobles, a 6-1 junior at guard, and Sanchez, a 6-9 senior forward.
It was 36-36 at intermission and no player for either team was in double figures. Nine Razorbacks and six Cougars scored in the period. Van Slyke had nine for Houston in the half; Nobles had eight for Arkansas.
It was Anderson’s first game in central Arkansas with his new team after successful stints at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri before accepting the Arkansas job.
The Cougars were average in one sense. They had averaged 86 points in their first two contests and had four players with double-digit scoring averages, led by Joseph Young (18.5).
James Dickey, a former Razorback assistant under Eddie Sutton, is in his second season at Houston. The Cougars went 12-18 last year, losing to Marshall in the Conference USA tournament finals to end the season.
Powell, a junior out of Newport News, Va., was averaging 19.5 points in the first two games. He was named to the Southeastern Conference all-freshman team in 2009-10, but was dealing with a foot injury much of last year.
In his first season, he averaged 14.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. After a slow start as a sophomore, he averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest.
The Cougars began the season with victories over Grambling State and Utah Valley. Arkansas defeated South Carolina-Upstate and Oakland in its first two outings.