Hogs Top Sports Tours
Eric Ferguson drives the ball against Sports Tours on Saturday.
Billy Pharis had his hands full inside with the bulk of Sports Tours.
Photos by Tom Ewart
Saturday afternoon's University of Arkansas exhibition basketball against Sports Tours showed clearly why several newcomers should help the Razorbacks fare much better this campaign than their 9-19 mark of a season ago.
But it also showed clearly why second-year head coach Stan Heath is signing three players over 6-10 and another 6-8, 235-pound combo forward in the week-long early signing period that opens on Wednesday.
Jonathon "Pookie" Modica poured in a game-high 25 points as Arkansas roared to a 16-point first half lead, lost it when they got overwhelmed inside during the middle of the game and then responded down the stretch for a 84-77 win before 7,8167 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"I'm pleased," Heath said. "There were times in this game where they made a run and they even took a lead. We could have put our heads down, but we responded. Jonathon and Olu (Famutimi) stepped out and hit some threes and Billy (Pharis) did, too.
"It's a game of making decisions and capitalizing on mistakes," Heath added. Every time we made a mistake they made us pay, and that's what veterans do. It's good that we responded. It could have been worse."
Modica connected on 9-of-13 field goals and 5-of-6 free throws in a game where the Razorbacks shot 46 percent (30-of-65) from the field and 72.7 percent (16-of-22) from the free throw line during the contest.
The Razorbacks did outrebound their foe 37-36 despite facing an older, more physical club, but couldn't stop them inside at times.
"We are going to have to play smarter defense," Modica said. "We don't have the size and we don't have to strength that some teams do. So we are going to have to contain folks, play defense together and keep people off the offensive glass and play defense as a team."
Famutimi added 11 points off the bench and starters Eric Ferguson, Brewer and Pharis all had 10 in the first of two exhibition games before the Razorbacks open their regular season Friday, Nov. 21 against visiting Nicholls St.
Vincent Hunter, the fifth starter on Saturday, had nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds, but he and Pharis had their hands full with 6-11, 300-pound Darius Beard and 6-9, 235-pound Damon Maddux, the former Florida player.
But those two players were also tossing out tips during the game to their younger inside counterparts.
"They were actually giving us some pointers on how we should play defense," Hunter said. "I guess that's part of the deal. They aren't going to the NBA and that are brought in to try and help teams out. We just have to keep working hard and play defense as a team. They were very physical and knew a lot of tricks down there."
Brewer, who had 21 points and 14 assists in his team's Red-White game, added 6 rebounds, 2 assists and had only one turnover in a 29 minutes this Saturday.
But he was not handing out a very high grade for his team's performance against a team of former collegians.
"It was a good first exhibition game, but I would rate us at about a C," Brewer said. "We have so much improvement that we can do and for our team to get better. I think we will strive to make those improvements and it just going to take a little time, but I think we will be ready for the beginning of the season."
Arkansas raced out to a 45-29 lead with a 10-0 run capped by Michael Jones' 3-pointer and two free throws by Modica with 1:58 left before intermission.
But Sports Tours cut that to 45-33 at half and then capped a 20-7 turnaround and actually took the lead on an old-fashioned three-point play that put the visitors up 53-52 with 13:06 left in the game.
Pharis' free throw and Brewer's steal and dunk got Arkansas the lead back and then Pharis nailed a trio of 3-pointers around a Famutimi long-distance dial up as the Razorbacks raced out to a 71-61 lead with 6:55 left and coasted home.
"We are going to have to play much better defense inside, but one of the things I can do is step out and knock a few down," the 6-8, 240-pound Pharis said. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of big guys who want to go out there with me."
Beard had 17 points and 9 rebounds, fellow insider Eric Franson 15 points and 8 rebounds and Maddox 11 points.
Arkansas, which did not have a single game of more assists than turnovers last season, had 17 assists and 13 turnovers on Saturday.
"We can be so much better offensively and defensively, but we are a work in progress and we'll get there," Modica said. "This was just a first step."
Arkansas played the game in front of 6-3, 185-pound combo guard Albert Weber, a top national prospect that Arkansas would love to add to its recruiting haul.
The Razorbacks are set to sign 6-10, 265-pound Al Jefferson, 6-11, 252-pound Steven Hill, 6-10, 235-pound Darian Townes and 6-8,235-pound Charles Thomas on Wednesday when the signing period opens.
Weber, ranked as the 51st best prospect by recruiting analyst Dave Telep of TheInsidersHoops.com, will announce a decision between Arkansas, UConn and Alabama - where he first committed - on either Monday or Tuesday.
"That's a great group and when I think about how good some of the players are they have here now and adding them those guys and then myself, we could be scary," Weber said. "It's something I am really considering."
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