FAYETTEVILLE - It’s not a homecoming first but a ballgame first, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson reminds three Razorbacks guards coming home Thursday night.
In Arkansas’ annual Central Arkansas visit to Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, the Razorbacks, 10-1, meet the Sam Houston State Bearkats, 9-3.
Tipoff is 7 p.m. and on radio only.
Razorbacks guards Dusty Hannahs, a senior from Pulaski Academy, and juniors Daryl Macon from Little Rock Parkview and Anton Beard from North Little Rock all come home wanting to impress the folks back home.
"I’m sure they’ll be charged up about it, but they have to understand that it’s basketball," Anderson said. "It’s a team sport and we’re trying to get better. Let’s stay in the now. I’m sure it’ll be really special for them because they’ll have their families there and something about that crowd down there and there’s a lot of energy in that building. We’ll see if we can go down and play good basketball."
Sometimes, it seems the Razorbacks try too hard in their annual visit to central Arkansas like last season’s 69-66 overtime loss to Mercer.
Hannahs and Beard both played in that game while Macon was playing for Holmes Community College in Goodman, Miss.
"I actually had a chance to win that game at the end and missed a pretty open three," Hannahs said. I" was a pretty bad feeling leaving Little Rock last year. I don’t want to leave it with anything near the same."
For now, winning seven consecutively including over the Texas Longhorns last Saturday in Houston and 71-56 over North Dakota State on Tuesday night at Walton Arena, the three feel excited with themselves and their team coming home.
""I am very excited about that," Macon said of his first game in his home’s vicinity. "I have been thinking about it since before the Texas game. I had to stay tunnel vision on what was in front of me."
Macon said tonight’s game has been area coded by the returning threesome.
"They even made a picture that said 501 boys," Macon said, smiling. " I don’t think everybody liked it because we looked so good on the picture."
Like Hannahs, Beard exults at the chance to come home and erase last season’s memory there.
" Last year losing was horrible," Beard said. "But the first half, you realize you’re playing in your home city. Especially playing for the Razorbacks, that’s huge. We’re all from the 501. We’re all just really excited to go play in our city."
Like last season’s Mercer team, the Razorbacks tonight face a mid-major team they’ll be favored to beat with a past and present that needs to capture their attention.
The Huntsville, Texas based Bearkats of coach Jason Hooten and the Southland Conference slipped to 18-16 last season but still played one postseason round losing to Jackson State at the College Insider Tournament.
The College Insider invite likely in part came off the Bearkats’ 26-9 and 24-11 records the previous two seasons.
For this season they are 9-3 including beating on the road the Southern Illinois Salukis that Arkansas defeated starting this season at home.
The Bearkats start an experienced lineup with senior guards Dakari Henderson and Paul Baxter and senior forwards Aurimas Majauksas and Torry Butler.
Sophomore guard John Dewey is the lone starting underclassman.
Henderson, 11.6, and Majauksas, 10.1, are the leading scorers with sixth-man forward Chris Galbreath averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, second on the team to Butler’s 7.2 rebounds.
"I just know they’re a team that returns a lot of guys from last year," Anderson said. "It’s a team that is bringing in some veteran guys, some good guard play. They’re picked to win their league. I’m sure it’s going to be a team that comes in with no fear. They’re won five games in a row, so I expect a team to come out and compete. We’re going to have to play good basketball."