John Pelphrey vividly remembers his trip to Puerto Rico as Billy Donovan’s assistant at Florida 11 seasons ago. He’s hoping for better results as head coach at Arkansas.
The No. 18 Razorbacks begin play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday night when they take on College of Charleston.
Pelphrey is in his first season with Arkansas (1-0) after five seasons coaching at South Alabama. Prior to that, he began building his coaching reputation as Donovan’s assistant with the Gators.
Pelphrey saw Florida lose two of three games in Puerto Rico during Donovan’s first season, beating host school Puerto Rico-Mayaguez and losing to Creighton and Delaware. The Gators went 13-17 that year.
“I went to Puerto Rico when I was at Florida,” Pelphrey said. “It was our first year. We really enjoyed the resort. I think we came out 1-2.”
His Razorbacks will be favored to win this event as the only ranked team in the field. He has used this season’s early upsets—Gardner-Webb shocking Kentucky and Mercer knocking off Southern California—to try to help his team guard against a letdown.
“You’re always on the alert on the coach’s side,” he said. “Sometimes as a player, you get comfortable. I’m always concerned, even at home games you’re supposed to win. On the road at a neutral site against a well-coached team, there’s always a level of concern.”
A matchup against College of Charleston (0-1) certainly qualifies as one to concern any coach. That’s because the Cougars are in their second season under former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.
Cremins guided the Yellow Jackets to 10 NCAA tournaments in 19 seasons, and led the Cougars to a 22-11 mark last season in his return to coaching.
“(Cremins) always had great guards at Georgia Tech with Mark Price, Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury,” Pelphrey said. “Last year, (Charleston) had a really good guard and everything went through him. We expect them to take advantage of the 3-point line and they will probably fast break at every opportunity.”
Arkansas features a terrific guard in sophomore Patrick Beverley, who led the team last season with 13.9 points per game. Beverley made just 5-of-12 shots for 15 points in Friday’s season-opening 67-45 win over Wofford.
Senior forward Darian Townes, considered an underachiever in his Razorbacks’ career, added 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Townes averaged only 7.4 points in non-conference play last season.
“I’ve said before that I didn’t want to come in the door and form any opinions, but I have been surprised,” Pelphrey said. “I enjoy Darian. Sometimes he does have a problem with his body language, but other than a couple of occasions, he has been very good.”
Charleston fell 98-91 in overtime to North Carolina-Wilmington on Saturday in its opener. The loss overshadowed guard Andrew Goudelock’s 27 points - the most by a Cougars’ freshman in nearly 14 years.
Arkansas has never faced Charleston. The winner will meet Providence or Temple in Friday’s semifinals.