FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)—When Marcus Monk joined Arkansas’ basketball team, it seemed like a novelty—the rebuilding Razorbacks bringing in a former football player to add some desperately needed depth.
Turns out that assessment was all wrong.
Monk is already playing major minutes in crunch time, and the young Hogs are looking dangerous.
Monk scored 12 points in only his third game of the season and stood his ground against Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin down low, helping Arkansas hand the fourth-ranked Sooners their first loss, 96-88 on Tuesday night.
“Marcus Monk—my goodness,” Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. “There’s no words that can describe what we saw tonight. That was one of the best performances that I’ve ever seen.”
The 6-foot-6 Monk, a former wide receiver for the Razorbacks, has used up his football eligibility and struggled to gain a foothold in the NFL. He’s been practicing with the team for less than two weeks this season, while working toward a second bachelor’s degree.
Monk scored eight points in the second half, when Michael Washington was in foul trouble.
“I’ve still got a long way to go and a lot to learn,” said Monk, who also played a bit of basketball for Arkansas in 2004-05. “But I’m trying to soak it all in.”
Monk was one of six Arkansas players in double figures. Washington had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Courtney Fortson had 12 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
“I thought Fortson was sensational the way he controlled the game,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “He understands pace. He understands who’s going.”
The Razorbacks lost 86 percent of their scoring from last season’s team that went to the second round of the NCAA tournament, but they have won eight in a row and never trailed against Oklahoma.
Arkansas (10-1) led by 25 points in the second half before the Sooners nearly pulled off a huge rally. Oklahoma (12-1) cut the margin to 81-77, but Washington scored Arkansas’ next seven points to enable the Hogs to hold on.
When it was over, Rotnei Clarke—an Arkansas freshman from Verdigris, Okla. — held the ball and shared a hug with Washington as the final seconds ticked away on Oklahoma’s unbeaten record.
“It shows that youth doesn’t matter, talent does,” said Capel, a member of the 1994 Duke team that lost to Arkansas in the NCAA title game. “John has done a good job getting them to play hard and win.”
Willie Warren scored 35 points for the Sooners, the freshman’s second straight 30-point game, while Griffin had 21 points and 13 rebounds.
The Sooners, who hadn’t played in over a week, fell behind 21-8 before Capel called a timeout.
The early attempt to regroup did little good as Griffin had two shots blocked, and Stefan Welsh went right around Griffin on a fast break for a 37-17 lead.
The Sooners’ frustration boiled over when Tony Crocker was called for two fouls 10 seconds apart. After the second, Crocker stormed over toward his bench, earning a technical foul for the outburst and saddling himself with four fouls for the game. Clarke’s free throws made it 41-20.
Clarke’s 3-pointer made it 72-47 in the second half before Oklahoma went on a 16-0 run. Crocker did his best to atone for his foul-plagued first half, making five 3-pointers in the second to finish with 18 points.
Monk stopped that run with two free throws, then drew Griffin’s fourth foul and sank two more free throws. He later added a layup that made it 80-67.
The Sooners didn’t go quietly. Griffin scored inside to make it 81-71, then intercepted a pass and threw the ball off an Arkansas player out of bounds.
Warren made consecutive 3-pointers to make it 81-77, and Fortson appeared trapped near midcourt against Oklahoma’s pressure. But the Arkansas guard managed to find Washington alone under the basket for a dunk.
Warren’s two free throws made it 83-79, but that was as close as Oklahoma would get. Washington made a free throw and two baskets to make it 88-81.
Only Warren prevented a complete debacle in the first half for the Sooners. At one point, Warren was 6-of-6 from the field while his Oklahoma teammates were 1-of-15. Warren scored 20 points in the first half, but Arkansas led 53-38 at halftime.