What Arkansas did in the early stages of the first half Tuesday night against visiting Southeast Missouri State no doubt put its fans in quite a bit of dismay over not only how the game was going, but just how difficult the season might become.
But what the Razorbacks did after falling down 15 at home to the hot-shooting but unheralded Indians certainly turned out to be encouraging in what ended up being a 78-68 win before 10,419 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Jonathon "Pookie" Modica had 20 points and 8 rebounds and fellow sophomore Eric Ferguson added 18 points as the Razorbacks put five guys in double figures and improved to 5-1 despite getting all they wanted from the visitors.
"It wasn't pretty, it wasn't easy and probably not the best decisions were made out there tonight," UA head coach Stan Heath said. "But we'll take the win and keep on trucking."
Arkansas trailed 33-18 with 7:16 left in the first half before cutting it to 10 by intermission.
The Razorbacks then used a 13-0 run midway through the second half to finally give themselves enough cushion down the stretch to hold off the upstart club from Cape Giraredeau, Mo.
That surge, which brought Arkansas from 56-52 down to 65-56 up, included five points from freshman Olu Famutimi as well as points and defensive plays from the other four players on the floor at the time.
Still the Razorbacks, 18-of-27 from the free throw line, let the visitors get back within four with just over a minute left when they didn't convert from the line.
It took a bucket in the lane by Modica with 54.2 seconds left and his free throw 14 seconds later that put Arkansas up 74-67 to finish off the visitors.
It gave the Razorbacks over half the amount of wins they had last season in a 9-19 year.
"I was proud we gave tremendous effort the last 28 minutes," Heath said. "We got after it defensively and made hustle plays. We were sound on offense and attacked. We would not have won that game last year. I know that and our players know that. After the game I said that to them and I saw a lot of heads nodding. We came closer together tonight during some adversity."
Modica, who led his team in scoring for the sixth straight game this season, stepped up on both ends of the court in in the second half.
"It was good to see Jonathon carry the load again," Heath said. "He is a marked man, he gets a lot of attention, he shoots a lot of shots. To his credit, he doesn't ever shoot a bad percentage. I challenged Jonathon to help us on the boards. He hasn't been rebounding at all. He did that tonight and his defense was good."
Modica seems like he is listening to what his coach is saying and also got challenged by some talk from the visitors.
"They came out pretty strong and got us down and started talking a lot of ya-ya," Modica said. "But they wore down. They weren't talking at the end. We had to buckle down on D and get some big time rebounds. It starts on D and getting some stops."
Heath and some of the players were harkening back to last year's early season home loss to mid-major Troy State, which ended up making the NCAA Tournament.
"This one had Troy State written all over it," Heath said, "until we came up with some defense and got some stops. We let them run their offense in the first half. That is a good team that is going to have a good season. We came in at halftime and talked about what we were doing wrong and what we could do different and about playing harder."
Ronnie Brewer had 14 points and fellow freshman starter Famutimi 12 in a game where the Razorbacks shot 45.3 percent from the field, knocked down 10 3-pointers and had 15 assists and 17 turnovers.
Arkansas, who now heads into an eight-day game break for finals, also got key contributions off the bench from previously lightly-used reserves Charles Tatum and Wenbos Mukubu in a combined 27 minutes of action.
Dainmon Gonner, a tough 6-6, 230-pound inside-outside force, led SEMO (4-3) with 20 while fellow forward Brandon Griffin also worked Arkansas over inside and added 16 points and 11 rebounds.
"In the first half, we came out on fire," said Gonner,a junior college transfer. "We fell asleep in the second half. We didn't rebound or make shots in the second half. Arkansas is athletic and and skill wise they are best team we have played."
SEMO head coach Gary Garner said his team, which hit just 13-of-25 free throws and had 10 of its 17 turnovers after intermission, just got tired down the stretch.
"They wore us down out there," Garner said. "They have some really good athletes that can make big plays. Turnovers made a difference in the game."
Although Arkansas' arena was just halfway filled up for the weeknight game, Garner - a former Drake head coach and Missouri assitant - liked what he saw.
"Arkansas has a great atmosphere," Garner said. "I wish we could play in places like this all the time. It is reall something else. The crowd really gets into it and helps the team. This facility is top notch and makes for a tough road game."
SEMO, who hit 9 of its first 12 shots and connected on 53.8 percent of its first half attempts, had turned a 7-5 deficit into a 20-10 lead by the time by the time Gonner buried a 3-pointer with 14:35 left in the opening half.
The visitors took their largest lead of the night when they pushed it to 33-18 by scoring five straight points, a spurt capped by two Brett Hale free throws.
"To start the game we had no emotion, no energy," Heath said. "We started out with Ronnie Brewer giving up a backdoor lay-up on the first play. We had worked on that cut for two days. Defense will keep him an average player. Great players play both ends. He responded in the second half."
Arkansas would get it to within eight with 38.2 second left before intermission on Ferguson's steal and ensuing two free throws, but Hale matched that with 11.4 ticks left to send the Indians to the half ahead 41-31.
The Razorbacks looked much more energized out of the break and cut its deficit to as few as five, but SEMO looked like it had steadied itself and went ahead 48-41 on Prather's rebound basket.
At that point, Ferguson netted a 3-pointer and when Tatum did the same Arkansas got within 50-48 at the 14:46 mark.
Pharis' 3-pointer got Arkansas within one a couple minutes later, Modica's free throw tied it and then the Razorbacks took the lead 59-56 on Famutimi's 3-point bomb from the corner with 10:43 mark.
The Razorbacks, who were coming in off a humbling 84-61 road loss to Illinois, will not return to action until Wednesday, Dec. 17 when they host Louisiana Tech at Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas played the game without 6-10 freshman forward Vincent Hunter, who injured his shoulder against Illinois.
He had an MRI and the extent of that injury and the time he is going to miss should be known by Wednesday.
"When you have a young team like we have, you have to crawl before you can walk and that's what we are doing," Heath said. "It's good to be 5-1."
Ronnie Brewer works towards the basket against SEMO.
Stan Heath (right) questions an official.
Photos by Tom Ewart
Arkansas 78, SEMO 68
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Longhorns Preview Oklahoma StateTexas offensive players discuss the Longhorns' upcoming game at Oklahoma State to kickoff Big 12 Conference play.
Horns DigestMonday at 6:21 PM
Louisiana CB 'Real Close' to a DecisionIt may not be too long before one of the top cornerbacks in Louisiana makes his decision. Four schools are high on his list and you can get the latest here...
Scout FootballMonday at 6:15 AM
JC defensive back talks ISU official visitOver the weekend, Iowa State played host to one of their top 2017 targets in the current recruiting cycle in Paramount, CA three-star JUCO CB Keisean Nixon. This visit for the…
AllCyclonesSunday at 6:34 PM
TCU vs Iowa State primerAfter falling in double-overtime to Arkansas, TCU looks to get back to their winning ways against Iowa State.
Horned Frog Insider09/15/2016
The Ultimate Midlands TeamThere is a lot of talent in the Midlands region, with a vast majority of the highest rated recruits playing high school football in the Lone Star State. Which prospects made the…