TULSA – After a pair of humbling defeats at home, Arkansas' basketball team found some comfort and a fresh start about two hours down the road in a place that few visitors have found success recently.
Sophomore Jonathon "Pookie" Modica had 15 of his career-high 28 points in the second half and a career-high five 3-pointers as the Razorbacks rallied from a five-point deficit after intermission and made several key plays late to down Tulsa 81-74 Tuesday night before a season-high 8,455 fans at the Donald W. Reynolds Center.
The win ended Tulsa's 14-game home winning streak, was the first road win in two tries this season for Arkansas (7-3) and also marked just the second road victory in second-year head coach Stan Heath's tenure at the helm of the Razorbacks.
"I thought this was a great college basketball game," Heath said. "It was fun and it was exciting. Our guys had their heads down after our last loss and to come in here and win a big game on the road shows a lot of character."
Arkansas, which hit a season-high 11 3-pointers in 23 attempts in the game, was coming off an embarrassing 62-59 home overtime loss to Western Carolina in its last outing and had lost 73-58 to visiting Oklahoma State in its previous contest.
The Razorbacks – whose last road win was at Vanderbilt last season - had several chances to fold down the stretch, but didn't and instead pulled out a victory that helped soothe at least some of the pain of the last two losses.
"That was a great victory against a good opponent," Modica said. "It showed that we weren't going to put our heads down. Last year I think we would have folded up. This year we stepped up late in the game, stayed in the game and we came through."
Freshman Ronnie Brewer added 14 points and a team-high and career-high tying 10 rebounds, fifth-year senior Billy Pharis tied his season best with 12 points and added five rebounds and three assists and sophomore Eric Ferguson also added 12 points, including some key free throws down the stretch for Arkansas.
Modica's two free throws with 4:35 left in the game gave Arkansas the lead for good at 65-64, but Pharis' long 3-pointer with 1:08 remaining was the dagger in the Hurricanes' heart as it gave his team a 71-66 and Tulsa never had the ball with a chance to lead from that point on.
"Pharis' shot was almost like a dagger," Tulsa head coach John Phillips said. "He took it because he had to and it was a long one and to his credit he made it. That was so big."
Pharis, a 6-8, 230-pound forward who hit 3-of-5 3-pointers on the night, said it was just a matter of answering the bell when it was his time.
"I have a lot of confidence in my shot and I got a chance to hit a big one," Pharis said. "But that is what you are supposed to be able to do if you are playing at this level."
Ferguson, took over from there by netting 7 of 8 free throws while Modica and Kendrick Davis combined to also hit 3-of-4 as Tulsa had to foul in its bid to make up its deficit with time running out.
"It was a game where there were several times they made a run and we could have let up, but instead we stepped up and answered each run and each challenge," Heath said. "As a coach, that's what you love to see."
The Razorbacks shot 52 percent from the field in the second half after managing to take a 34-32 lead into intermission despite hitting only 30.3 percent of its first half field goal attempts.
But Phillips, whose squad hit 41 percent of its field goal attempts in the contest, thought the game was lost for his team in the first 20 minutes.
" I thought Arkansas played well tonight, especially in the first half," Phillips said. "I thought they outhustled us to loose balls and wanted it more. In the second half we gave the effort, but it comes down to the fact that they just made the plays and we didn't."
Jarius Glenn had a career-high 27 points and 13 rebounds to lead Tulsa (4-5) whilw Anthony Price 12 and senior standout Jason Parker was held to just 11 points, seven below his team high average.
"It's not as if this is an embarrassing loss and we lost to a bad team," Phillips said. "Arkansas is a good team…I think my team is a very coachable one, but we made some silly, silly mistakes and ended up playing for them."
Modica was just 7-of-19 overall from the field, but knocked down 5-of-7 3-pointers and also flourished at the line where he was 9-of-11 on a night where the Razorbacks hit 24-of-33 (72.7 percent) as a team.
"I felt confident coming into this game," Modica said. "I have felt confident all season. Unfortunately the last two games, I just couldn't shoot any. Things worked out for me night…I know eventually they are going to start falling. I don't think I am going to shoot my game out of the game. I just try to go out there and do what I can do to help our team to get a victory."
Starting sophomore forward Rashard Sullivan (5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks) and sophomore reserve Wenbos Mukubu (6 points, 2 rebounds) both added several huge hustle plays in the game.
Olu Famutimi warmed up, but then sit out the game because of a knee injury while fellow freshman forward Vincent Hunter made his first appearance since suffering a shoulder injury back on Dec. 6 and was scoreless in eight minutes in which he picked up four fouls.
But freshman Brewer had his buddies' backs.
"It was a great win for us, especially since we had some guys hurting and since it was on the road and since we had not played like we are capable of," Brewer said. "Hopefully this is the start of something good that we can build on."
Arkansas led by as many as 7 in the first half, lost that lead on a 10-0 Tulsa run, but steadied itself and took the two-point lead to the half.
After finding itself down 42-37 early in the second half, the Razorbacks ripped off a 13-3 run to go up 50-45 on a Pharis' 3-pointer at the 12:24 mark.
Tulsa would then rally from first the five-point deficit and then a six-point one and eventually took a 64-63 lead when Parker bombed home a long 3-pointer near the shot clock buzzer that gave his team its least lead with 5:06 remaining.
But Modica's two free throws 30 seconds later gave his team the lead for good and after Parker's turnover, Mukubu netted a free throw and Brewer got loose for a dunk before Pharis came up with his heroics.
"You have to make sure you stay together, make sure you are encouraging each other, encouraging the young people," Modica said. "You don't want to make people feel like we are out of the game when you are really not."
Arkansas will return to action Saturday and try to come within a win of its nine-win total of a year ago when it ends up nonconference action by hosting North Texas at 12:35 p.m. in Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas 81, Tulsa 74
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