The University of Arkansas record for blocked shots in a single season is 229, but it might not be when the year is over because of the influx of some young big men.
Steven Hill swatted away six shots and fellow freshman big men Darian Townes sent three of the game's 10 blocks the other way - including a game-saving one in the final minute - as the Red team rallied past the White 73-70 Saturday afternoon in an intersquad game played before 4,417 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Co-captains Ronnie Brewer and Jonathon Modica both poured in 23 points, but it was Brewer's Red squad winning the matchup when Townes blocked Modica's potential game-winning shot and then hit two free throws with 6.5 seconds left in the game.
"We have got some long, athletic players with good timing and they are very dangerous," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "Do you want to get your shot blocked? No, but with a guy that 7-foot and another 6-10 and got good timing, it's going to happen."
New point guard Dontell Jefferson added 19 points and Townes 12 for the Red while senior forward Michael Jones chipped in 20 points and Eric Ferguson had 11 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists for the White squad.
"I feel like we are getting a lot of guys that share the ball with each other, a lot of guys who help each other out on defense," Heath said. "I genuinely feel like when you go in that locker room and you seem them just interacting, you see a friendship, you see a bond and you see a team that genuinely likes each other and it's not just for show. We've still got to get better, but I like the way we are headed."
The 6-9, 220-pound Jones, who had eight rebounds and also took a charge, is one of the main beneficiaries of the addition of a trio of freshmen big men - 7-0, 233-pound Hill, 6-10, 253-pound Townes and 6-7, 243-pound Charles Thomas - as he gets to play on the perimeter more.
"We went out there and played real well, executed on offense and played hard on defense today," Jones said. "We showed our inside game. The big guys did a wonderful job. Combine that with our outside game and I think we have a chance to be really something special if we keep working hard."
Hill, playing just a few weeks after his mom's passing, had 6 points and 8 rebounds to go with his 6 blocks. He gave the White team a 70-69 lead on his tip-in with just 47.9 seconds left.
"It felt great," Hill said. "I had a little bit of jitters, but the support from the fans made me feel so good. That's the main reason I chose Arkansas was the fans and how the support is just overwhelming. I am just going to try and play the best for them and my mom to honor her."
Jefferson missed on the other end, but sophomore Olu Famutimi put his miss in to surge the Red ahead 71-70 with 22.3 seconds remaining to set up the late heroics from Townes, who also had four rebounds - two of which he stuffed in for scores.
He came from off the ball to swat away Modica's lay-up attempt, knocked down his two free throws and then held his breath as Modica's last-shock shot came up short.
"I just wanted to make a big play at the end and that became a real big one when I then went down and made those two clutch free throws," Townes said. "You've got to finish it by making the free throws. I've got good timing and I just try to go get them without fouling."
Jefferson, a junior college transfer from Atlanta Metropolitan College, showed his versatility with his 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. He knocked down a trio of 3-pointers and also exploded down the lane for a dunk in traffic.
"Early off when we first started (practice) off he was good, but it just seems like lately he is playing great," Heath said. "Maybe it is just he is getting used to his teammates, getting used to what the coaches want. He is getting better and better and better. He seems like he is very poised out there when he plays and you need that from the point guard position."
He teamed with Brewer, the SEC's returning steal leader, to form a potent backcourt for the Red squad as they switched up the point guard duties throughout the game.
"I'd say that was a pretty nice combination out there," Heath said. "They were able to share, one bring it up and then flip-flop it. It really kept the White team off balance...They both made nice plays in transition and I thought it really gave that Red team more flexibility."
Ferguson, who has changed to No. 15 from No. 11, also played solidly.
"He said he wanted to change numbers and just have a fresh start," Heath said. "...I think the luxury is now for a good part of the game keep two guys that have good ball skills out there all the time - whether it is Brewer and Jefferson, Jefferson and Ferguson or Ferguson and Brewer. Offensively and defensively it is going to make things better."
The White team led 33-29 at halftime and pushed that advantage to 42-34 with 16:59 left on Preston Cranford's 3-pointer before the favored Red team came charging back behind it's defense.
A Brewer steal and dunk capped a 21-5 Red spree that turned the eight-point deficit into a 55-47 advantage with 11:35 left in the game.
There was some bad news late in the contest when sophomore forward Vincent Hunter (four points, four rebounds) reinjured the same shoulder he hurt last season and had to miss a portion of the season.
"It is something we got to look at and have our doctors look at," Heath said. "It's the same shoulder that popped out last year. It is a concern and we will have to figure out the best direction to go with it."
Both team's shot 41 percent from the field and combined for 10 3-pointers while the White won the rebounding battle 38-35.
Arkansas was sizzling at the free throw line with the Red connecting on 18-of-22 charity tosses and the White squad 19-of-24 to combine for an 80 percent clip.
"I will take that every day of the week without a doubt," Heath said. "We have worked hard in that area."
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