By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas center Delvon Johnson had never scored a game-winning bucket in the final seconds before his dunk at Auburn last Saturday.
Teammate Marcus Britt had never recorded a bigger field goal than last Wednesday, when his layup was the deciding basket in the Kentucky win.
So it’s safe to say the seniors turned in their most important contributions as Razorbacks last week, helping Arkansas win two important games with big plays. And, as Britt sees it, that’s exactly what should be happening this time of year.
"Seniors are supposed to make big plays," Britt said Monday afternoon. "That’s what me and Delvon did for the past two games. We made big plays."
Arkansas is hoping the pair will have their say in a few more once again tonight, when the Razorbacks (18-10, 7-7 in Southeastern Conference) play Mississippi State (15-13, 7-7) in Bud Walton Arena.
It would be fitting, considering Britt and Johnson will join teammate Jemal Farmer in being honored at midcourt before tonight’s game. The three seniors will make their final appearances in Bud Walton Arena, which will celebrate Senior Night.
"It will be a little bit emotional," Arkansas guard Rotnei Clarke said about Senior Night. "You go to battle with those guys every single day. Blood, sweat and tears, you’re all in it together. It will be a little bit sad knowing this is the last game they’ll play in Bud Walton.
"It will be a better if we could win for them."
Johnson and Britt have played important roles in Arkansas’ late season success, helping the Razorbacks win four of their past five games.
Johnson’s play continues what has been a solid season in the starting lineup. He came to Arkansas as a junior college transfer last season and played sparingly in a reserve role behind Michael Washington. Arkansas needed someone it could count on in the post and Johnson has provided.
Johnson has started every game despite dealing with nagging ankle and hip injuries. He is averaging 9.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks, showing obvious improvement from last season.
"I feel like Delvon, all his work is showing because of all the work that he put in the offseason and the summertime," Clarke said. "That’s a tribute to him, working in the weight room and doing whatever he had to do to put himself in a position this year. I expected that out of him."
Johnson’s dunk in the closing seconds of regulation was a thrill for the senior and helped Arkansas win its second straight game. It was part of a night in which he battled foul trouble, but finished with six points and seven rebounds.
"He embodies what you want in a player from the standpoint of, you know, they all want to play," Pelphrey said. "I’m sure he would have liked to have a little bit more of a role last year, but he embraced the coaching and did what was best. As soon as the season was over with, he went to work and made himself better in the classroom and the weight room. So when this season came around, he’s taken full advantage of his opportunity."
Britt, the only four-year player on Arkansas’ roster, has experienced similar improvement. And it has been noticed on the offensive end lately.
Britt is enjoying his finest stretch as a Razorbacks, averaging 7.8 points in the past four games. That included his game-winning layup off a steal against Kentucky, which Britt then followed with a 10-point, 7-rebound performance at Auburn.
"I’ve been doing pretty good lately," Britt said. "I’ve been getting shots up before and after practice. I think that has a lot to do with it."
Britt’s game-winning Kentucky bucket came after a defensive stop. The Razorbacks got a steal at the top of the key and Britt raced downcourt, caught a pass from Jeff Peterson and scored a layup.
After the game, Britt said it was the biggest moment of his career. Pelphrey said Britt’s performance was even more important at Auburn.
"I thought his leadership, he was vocal out there in getting guys huddled up and keeping us on to the next play and very encouraging in timeouts and stuff," Pelphrey said. "His impact in that game was all over it, not just the 10 points."
Both seniors should be in the starting lineup once again against Mississippi State when the Razorbacks try to extend their win streak to three straight tonight. Arkansas also is battling the Bulldogs (and Ole Miss) for second place in the SEC West with two games remaining in the regular season.
If the past two games is any indication, Johnson and Britt will play an important role in helping Arkansas take another step toward a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. But Clarke said the Razorbacks intend to make Senior Night memorable.
"We really want to win for them," Clarke said.