FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Hunter Mickelson found himself in a frustrating spot in the first half Thursday night.
He was sitting on the Razorbacks’ bench because of two quick fouls.
Mickelson didn’t have that problem in the second half, rebounding from the early disappointment to lead Arkansas to a 79-74 win against Robert Morris in front of an announced crowd of 7,013 in Bud Walton Arena. Mickelson scored 14 of his career-high 16 points after the break to help the Razorbacks (6-4) hold off the pesky Colonials (8-5), who carried a five-game winning streak into Fayetteville.
“I got kind of in quick foul trouble there early on, but you’ve got to keep in mind that you were going to go in and help your teammates,” Mickelson said. “I was kind of looking forward to the second half. … I was happy to go out there and help out.”
Arkansas needed the contributions after struggling with Robert Morris most of the night. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson warned his team the Colonials would be a much bigger challenge than Alcorn State, who the Razorbacks beat with ease last Saturday. It proved true even though Robert Morris played most of the night without leading scorer Velton Jones (12.3 points a game), who was in foul trouble.
Arkansas trailed by as much as eight points in the first half and, despite recovering behind its pressure defense to take a 35-34 lead into the locker room, quickly fell behind 41-37 to open the second half. But Mickelson scored a bucket to help ignite a 20-5 run, which gave the Razorbacks the lead for good Thursday.
Mickelson was vital throughout the entire stretch, scoring 10 points. He made a jumper, scored on a putback, made a layup and knocked down free throws. By the time the spurt was over, Arkansas had a 57-46 lead — its largest of the game.
“In the first half, he was not moving his feet,” Anderson said of Mickelson. “He adjusted and did better in the second half. He’s a sophomore. That’s something he’s got to learn. He’s been doing a good job. But I thought he had a big second half.
“He had a big impact on the game.”
It wasn’t enough for Arkansas to pull away for an easy win, though.
The Razorbacks had to scratch and claw with Robert Morris throughout the final minutes largely because of the free-throw line.
The Colonials — who shot 36.4 percent from the field Thursday night — went 25-for-36 from the free-throw line thanks to Arkansas’ 26 personal fouls. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, shot 52.5 percent from the field but were just 13-for-26 from the stripe.
“If there’s a negative for us – because I thought defensively we did a lot of good things – it’s the shooting at the free-throw line,” Anderson said “If you make your free throws it’s a different game. It’s a double-figure game.”
But the woes helped Robert Morris come within as close as 71-68 with 2:50 remaining.
In the end, Arkansas wrapped up the win thanks to a missed free throw by Kikko Haydar with 11 seconds left. Guard B.J. Young soared in to grab the rebound and make a layup to give the Razorbacks a 79-72 lead.
“That was the game in a nutshell,” Arkansas guard Fred Gulley said.
It was part of a game-high 23 points for Young, who scored 15 points in the second half and worked his way through a night that also included six turnovers.
Mickelson and Young were among four Arkansas starters to score in double figures Thursday. Guard Mardracus Wade enjoyed his best offensive performance with a season-high 14 points. Forward Marshawn Powell added 12 points and nine rebounds.
Guards Coron Williams and Karvel Anderson scored 17 each to lead Robert Morris, which had three road wins entering Saturday’s game. They were within reach of a fourth Thursday night, but Anderson credited his team for making enough plays in the closing minutes to run the Razorbacks’ win streak to two games.
“I thought it was a real good gut check for our basketball team against a very solid Robert Morris team,” Anderson said.
“We didn’t falter and we finished out the game and got the win.”