- Associated Press - Thursday, December 22, 2016

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - It was a neutral-site game on the schedule, but Thursday’s trip to central Arkansas brought three Razorbacks home - and the trio helped lift their team to a 90-56 over Sam Houston State in both teams’ final game before conference play.

Daryl Macon, from Little Rock, scored 17 points and Anton Beard from North Little Rock added 16 as Arkansas (11-1) took advantage of the Bearkats’ poor shooting for an easy victory.

Dusty Hannahs, also from Little Rock, had been leading the Razorbacks in scoring at 15.7 points per game but had only six points in Arkansas’ annual game at Verizon Arena.

“He didn’t have an off-night. He had a guy named Paul Baxter guarding him, and he can guard anybody in the country,” Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten said. “Hannahs is a really good player, but Paul Baxter can play defensively in the SEC, there’s no question in my mind.”

But it was the Bearkats’ offense that led to their demise. Arkansas’ 12-point halftime lead grew quickly to 25 as the Razorbacks collapsed on anyone who dared enter the lane.

“Blocking shots. Challenging shots. That’s Razorbacks basketball,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. His team finished with nine blocked shots, seven in the second half as Sam Houston State shot 10 of 40 from the field. In one stretch, the Bearkats missed 14 of 15 shots.

Dakarai Henderson scored 13 points for Sam Houston State (9-4). Moses Kingsley also had 17 for Arkansas and Jaylen Barford had 11.

HOMETOWN HEROES

A crowd of 12,153 turned out for the contest - one factor could have been the Razorbacks have a much better record than last year, but it also helped that three Little Rock-area players are playing key roles on this year’s team. The attendance was about one-third larger than for the 2015 game against Mercer.

Hannahs, a senior, returned to the starting lineup for the game in front of his hometown fans. Macon has started much of the year. Beard was among Arkansas’ first subs 5 ½ minutes into the game.

“Playing in front of your family and friends, that’s special,” Anderson said.

While Verizon Arena is a home-away-from-home for the Hogs, it hadn’t assured success. The victory Thursday raised the Hogs’ record to .500 after 18 games in the building.

BIG PICTURE

While Arkansas has run out to a 11-1 record, it is difficult to gauge how much it has improved over last year’s team, which finished 16-16 after a 6-6 start. The Razorbacks have won eight in a row, but have only one victory over a team from a power conference, beating Texas 77-74 last weekend. The Razorbacks lost at Minnesota, 85-71.

Southland Conference coaches picked Sam Houston State to win the conference, but Thursday’s game would give little reason for confidence. The Razorbacks beat Sam Houston State by 34; three weeks ago Arkansas beat Southland member Stephen F. Austin by 16. Southland coaches picked SFA as the league runner-up.

“I thought we’d play better than we did tonight,” Hooten said. “Against teams that are our level, we’ve played really well.”

UP NEXT

Arkansas will take a break for Christmas and begin Southeastern Conference play Dec. 29 at Fayetteville against Florida. Tip-off was pushed back to 8 p.m. Central so the game won’t conflict with the Razorbacks football team’s appearance in the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech.

Sam Houston State, too, is off for the holiday. The Bearkats host Houston Baptist in a Southland Conference game Dec. 29 and will play at Central Arkansas, 30 miles up the road from Little Rock, on New Year’s Eve.

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