Mike Jones got his coaches' attention by imitating Vanderbilt star Matt Freije on Arkansas' scout team in practice on Friday. Jones said he relaxed and just "played like Mike Jones" on Saturday.
Jones scored 18 points, just one less than Freije, to help the Hogs defeat the No. 22 Commodores at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
"He lit us up yesterday," said Jonathon "Pookie" Modica of Jones' performance Friday. "He was Freije, probably better than Freije. He was 9 of 10 against our zone and coach figured we needed that on the floor today. Mike took that opportunity and made the best of it."
Jones, who got his first start of the season, was all smiles as he headed to the post-game radio interview as ARSN's star of the game.
"Coach told me last night he might start me, but that he wanted to sleep on it," Jones said. "He told us the lineup in a group setting this morning. He told me, ‘Play hard and with confidence.' I was surprised.
"I had been playing well in practice. It was the power of prayer because I hadn't been playing much. Yesterday was one of my best days ever in practice, though. They told me to play Freije and I played him pretty well. Freije was 9 of 10 yesterday. He was pretty good. But, today, I was Mike Jones out there, relaxed and playing like I can."
The Hogs had other weapons on the day. Freshman Ronnie Brewer had to take over at the point for long stretches with sophomore Eric Ferguson hobbled with a knee injury sustained in Friday's workout. Brewer had 21 points in 33 minutes. He was 6 of 6 from the line.
"Coach has been talking to us about someone stepping up as a leader," Brewer said. "I tried to do that today. I knew Eric was hurting and he's a big leader for us. I knew I had to play that role today."
Modica also scored 21 points, including 4 of 6 on treys. He hit a bit three late in the game early in the shot clock. It was a shot that surprised the Vanderbilt players.
"We thought they would be running clock there," Freije said. "We had a man draped over him and he buried it from the corner with the shot clock still at 30. It was a two-point game with about three minutes to play and that was a big, big shot. My hat is off to Modica on that one."
Modica said it was a case of making sure the Hogs continued to attack down the stretch.
"You can't just run clock," Modica said. "The big thing was that we had a lot of people doing things and the defense couldn't concentrate on me or just one or two guys. Give Mike Jones credit for that. He hit some shots and the defense had to go out and cover and that opened up the lane for me and Ronnie."
The Hogs also got a boost from freshman forward Olu Famutimi early in the second half when a Vandy spurt had the Hogs down by four points after leading by three at the intermission break. Famutimi hit a three and flew to the basket for a tip-in basket.
"Olu made some big plays to get us going again," Stan Heath said. "That got the crowd going and got us settled down. That was a big spurt for us."
Heath also praised the partisan crowd of 17,169.
"We couldn't have won without the crowd here today," he said. "They put life into the team and that's why they call it the Basketball Palace of Mid-America. We were emotionally drained and had lost those leads on the road, but I knew our crowd would support us. They always do and they were very good today."
The Hogs don't play again until Saturday at Georgia. They will take advantage of that break with some time off.
"They need some rest," Heath said. "Billy Pharis is really worn down. We will take off Sunday and Monday and the Tuesday practice will be real light. The rest will do their legs some good."
Mike Jones catches fire
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