Arkansas Opens Exhibition Season Tonight

FAYETTEVILLE -- Mike Jones stepped to the line for a free throw during the Red-White game and shot a confused look at the student section.

Half the section was screaming madly trying to disrupt the Razorback senior's rhythm.

The Arkansas basketball team prepared for its first exhibition game at 7:05 tonight against Texas A&M Commerce with an intrasquad scrimmage a week ago and the students were getting ready, too.

Arkansas junior guard and captain Jonathon Modica is glad the Razorbacks will have all the fans on their side tonight when they play the first of two exhibition games against Division II teams from the Lone Star Conference.

The Lions return four players from a 13-14 team and are all juniors or seniors mostly brought in from junior colleges.

One player the Razorbacks have seen before is 6-10 forward Nick Goellner, who had 3 points and no rebounds in Arkansas' 70-60 win against Southwest Texas State in Heath's first season.

"We're looking forward to playing somebody different and having a crowd in here to cheer for us -- and only us," Modica said with a laugh. "The fans will just be going for one team this weekend. So that's something we're excited about."

Modica is also eager to see how his team reacts to the Lions, a team the Razorbacks expect to come into Bud Walton Arena with something to prove.

"I look forward to that," he said. "I don't think any team is going to lay down for you no matter who it is. I think they're going to come in here and put up a dogfight. I'm curious to see how we're going to respond and how we're going to react to the situation.

"I think it will be a positive reaction from our side."

As Arkansas coach Stan Heath begins his third season on the sidelines, he hopes it is, too.

The Razorbacks will start a veteran lineup tonight with Modica, sophomore Ronnie Brewer, sophomore Olu Famutimi, junior Rashard Sullivan and freshman Darian Townes.

Heath said Thursday he believes his starting lineup will vary over the season and with a rotation 10-deep after the loss of sophomore forward Vincent Hunter to season-ending shoulder surgery, fans will see a lot of combinations no matter who starts.

One perimeter lineup Heath said he'll use early will be Brewer, junior Eric Ferguson and junior transfer Dontell Jefferson.

Heath has said Brewer and Jefferson will often flip-flop their roles at point guard and Ferguson, who played the point for the last two seasons, adds another valuable ball-handler and the most tenacious defender Arkansas has.

"The good part is now (Brewer) can rest and we can still put two good ball-handlers on the court and still be a strong team at the guard position," Heath said. "Even if we just had one, we're still in good shape."

Brewer led Arkansas in minutes last year, occasionally at the expense of his play.

"There were a lot of times he looked at me trying to come out and I looked the other way," Heath said. "Now I can look at him and give him a break."

Tonight will also be the first chance for Heath to see how the Razorbacks maintain their defensive intensity with a steady infusion of fresh bodies both on the perimeter and in the post.

Heath believes his depth can change the momentum of games midway through the first and second halves and tonight should test the strength of that theory.

"I really feel like a lot of our games will be decided by about seven or eight minutes where we can make a run," Heath said. "That second half where we have another wave of subs somewhere in that last 10-minute mark, I think we'll have a great opportunity to wear some opponents down and really make moves."

Seven-foot freshman center Steven Hill and 6-7 freshman forward Charles Thomas will also see action early, Heath said.

With Hunter out, Jones will now have to play some power forward but will still be a face-up player who could create matchup problems for bigger, slower players not as willing to step out and guard the 3-point line.

Heath is most curious about the defensive presence of his team tonight, but he also wants to see improvement on offense.

The Red-White game showed flashes of what Arkansas can do when it gets out and runs off turnovers and rebounds and Heath added the halfcourt offense is getting better as well.

"I'd like to see us move the ball better, screen better, use the screens better," Heath said. "It's not going to be where I want it, but as time moves on we have to have good timing and rhythm in our offense. It may happen at times, but I don't see it happening for 30-40 minutes of the game."

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