Motion offense gives Hogs boost

Arkansas players are comfortable now that there is more freedom in the offense. The rout of North Texas is proof positive. Here's the locker room story from the Hogs' 96-61 victory over the Mean Green.

Arkansas forward Billy Pharis didn't have to look at the stat sheet to know the two key numbers in the Hogs' 35-point victory over North Texas on Saturday at Bud Walton Arena.

"Twenty three and three," Pharis smiled. "That's a great stat. We made a lot of good decisions today. That's pretty sweet."

The Hogs had 23 assists and only three turnovers for the game. They were at 14 and one after the first 20 minutes.

"Coach told us at halftime that we had only one turnover and he challenged us to keep up our effort in that area," Pharis said. "He wanted it to be a special game. We got a couple more in the second half so that wasn't too bad."

Pharis scored 12 points and was one of four Razorbacks in double figures. He had 10 points in the first 10 minutes as the Hogs sprinted to a 29-9 lead. Rashard Sullivan, the Hogs' other inside starter, added all six of his points in the first three minutes.

"We have become screen setters," Pharis said. "Coach went to the motion offense when we came back from Christmas and the big guys have to set a lot of screens. The good thing is that the screener becomes the open man and out guards were getting us the ball with some good looks."

Sullivan said it's clear that the additional freedom in the offense has been good for the young Hogs.

"Everyone is getting more touches," Sullivan said. "Coach has lightened up on us quite a bit. It has allowed us to make our decisions and react to what we see. My job in this is to be a screener not a scorer, but when you screen good things happen. You set a good screen, likely you will be the man open."

The Hogs were running set plays in a variety of offenses before the Christmas break, something many of the players said left them stagnant.

"We've gone to the motion and it's probably the way we play best," said Eric Ferguson, who scored 11 points with eight assists. "We are just playing now. That has reduced our turnovers. We are not worried about making mistakes and getting in trouble. Since the Christmas break, coach hasn't been so negative. That's good for us. This style is good for us. We are comfortable and playing free."

Jonathon "Pookie" Modica likes the way things are flowing, too.

"When I go through the lane, I'm getting two or three screens set by the big guys and the guard on the other side," Modica said. "Good things are happening. The screens have been very good. The motion game has helped a lot. I think it has opened things up for me and the big guys. They got some good shots today."

It suits the newest Hog cager, too. Matt Jones said the motion game is something he's accustomed to playing. Jones was called on to play the final three minutes of the first half when the Hogs' inside men got in foul trouble.

"I'm not in shape yet and I don't know everything we are doing, but I can play the motion," Jones said. "If you've played basketball at any level, you know some type of motion offense. I can do this, but I'll feel better when I learn some of the other stuff we've got."

Jones didn't think he "played too good" and was thankful his teammates played a spotless game.

"Playing a game with three turnovers is awesome," Jones said. "That's pretty good. The team really played good. Hopefully, I'll get better. It's going to take me a couple of weeks to get everything down and to get in shape."

Many of his teammates were congratulating every move Jones made.

"The big thing is that Matt brings us energy," Modica said. "He can bang down low and the crowd is so into it when he steps onto the floor. That helps us. We feed off the crowd and we are glad to have him. He's a big body and a great, great athlete."

Modica said Jones has fit in well.

"No speeches, nothing special, just plain old Matt," Modica said. "He is just what you see, just a laid back person. We are glad to have him because he's a really good athlete."

Pharis, his former teammate at Van Buren, thought Jones did just fine.

"He gave us a defensive presence inside," Pharis said. "We'd picked up some fouls and needed him. I know he wasn't so pleased with what he did, but I thought he was great."

Jones made 1 of 4 shots from the field with two rebounds and two assists in his 11 minutes. His first shot attempt was a missed three from the corner. Fans urged him to fire away when his post defender backed away.

"I sure didn't plan on my first shot to be a three," Jones said, laughing. "That wasn't planned at all. I was open. Naw, I didn't hear anyone yelling (for him to shoot)."

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