NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rotnei Clarke scored a season-high 36 points and Michael Sanchez had a career-high 20 points off the bench as the Arkansas Razorbacks upset No. 19 Vanderbilt 89-78 Saturday night, handing the Commodores’ their first home loss this season.
Vanderbilt (15-5, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) had won its first 11 at Memorial Gym, and the Commodores had a sold out crowd cheering them on.
Arkansas (14-6, 4-3) hadn’t had much success here, winning only three of previous 10 trips. The Razorbacks also had lost to the first two ranked teams they played this season. That didn’t matter Saturday as they shot a season-high 57.4 percent from the floor.
They also outrebounded (30-22) and outdefended Vanderbilt all over the court. The Commodores only bettered Arkansas at the free throw line (25 of 26), which wasn’t nearly enough.
John Jenkins led Vanderbilt with 24 points. Festus Ezeli had 18 points, Jeff Taylor 13 and freshman Rod Odom had a season-high 12.
Sanchez missed all but four games last season with plantar fasciitis and sat out the first 11 games due to a stress fracture in his foot. That may be why the Commodores simply weren’t ready for him. Sanchez wound up scoring more points than he had managed in the previous eight games combined (17), using his speed to just run around the Commodores in the paint.
The Razorbacks blew open a tight game in the opening minutes with five ties and seven lead changes on Mardracus Wade’s free throw that put them up for good at 15-14 with 13:28 left. They built that margin up to as many as 11 in leading 43-36 at halftime, and Arkansas pushed it to as much as 16.
The Commodores attended the funeral Friday for the mother of walk-on guard Chris Meriwether, hours after returning from a road win at Mississippi State on Thursday night. A moment of silence was held before tipoff, and the Commodores looked lethargic. Every time they tried to make a run, Clarke or Sanchez just answered.
Jenkins scored the first nine points of the second half for Vandy, the last pulling the Commodores to 49-45.
That was as close as they would get. Julysses Nobles scored, and Sanchez drove for a layup. Clarke then hit consecutive 3s to push the lead to 59-47 as the Razorbacks hit seven of their first nine shots in the second half.
Vandy couldn’t get closer than eight the rest of the way, the last when Odum hit two free throws to pull to 79-71. Clarke responded with another 3 and finished 6 of 8 from beyond the arc.