After being outrebounded and outpressed by the Trojans of Troy University, the Razorbacks reversed both trends with their usual second-half surge to win 89-54 and advance to the championship game at 7 tonight against Eastern Michigan (2-0).
"We're excited to play in the championship," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath, who will be facing his alma mater tonight. "One of our main goals coming down here was to get in the championship game and win the championship game.
"We've put ourselves in a position to do that."
Arkansas had 11 turnovers against the Troy press in the first half and were outrebounded 26-23 by the smaller Trojans, who collected 12 offensive rebounds, mainly off long misses.
The Razorbacks trailed 35-32 with 4:25 to play in the first half after allowing a 13-1 run but regrouped in time for a 45-38 lead at intermission.
From there, Arkansas committed just one turnover in the first nine minutes of the second half, outrebounded Troy 13-5 in the same span and used a 17-0 run to put the game away.
"They just made us play faster than we wanted," said junior Jonathon Modica, who had 14 points on 5 of 11 shooting. "They played hard and made us scramble. We were kind of out of control in the first half. We settled down and played together.
"We did the things that are simple and make the game easier."
Arkansas was led by sophomore Ronnie Brewer's 18 points and 7 rebounds, tying teammate Rashard Sullivan for team-high numbers on the glass.
"I'm excited," Sullivan said of playing in the title game. "I can't wait to play. I want this title. I want to win a championship and I know my teammates feel the same way, too. If we play our hearts out the way we did the last couple games, we'll win."
Five Razorbacks scored in double figures led by Brewer, Modica, Dontell Jefferson (12, 4 of 6 shooting), Eric Ferguson (11, 5 of 11) and Olu Famutimi (11, 4 of 9).
Arkansas shot 47.7 percent for the game (31 of 65), 35 percent from outside (7 of 20) and a solid 80 percent (20 of 25) from the foul line.
The Arkansas defense was strong from start to finish, holding Troy to 34.1 percent in the first half and 29.4 for the game, but the extra possessions from Razorback turnovers and offensive rebounds allowed the Trojans to hang around.
Once the Razorbacks eliminated the silly turnovers, including at least three just trying to get the ball inbounds, there was not much left for Troy to do.
A night after firing 46 3-pointers against Winthrop and making 16, the Trojans were just 5 of 30 against Arkansas.
Part of the problem on the defensive glass for Arkansas was the long rebounds off the multiple Troy misses from outside.
Troy's 5-10 point guard Bobby Dixon had 6 rebounds in the first half, including three offensive.
Heath sent his guards to the glass in the second half and Modica, Brewer and Ferguson combined for 11 rebounds after intermission after collecting just six between them in the first.
Arkansas outrebounded Troy 25-12 in the second half.
"We had to get our guards to chase down some rebounds and get more active," Heath said. "When we did that, it really helped us. It took away second shots and opened up the fastbreak for us. We were smarter with the ball.
"The defensive effort was phenomenal. Those numbers are good against anybody."
Arkansas started off with a bang on a designed alley-oop from Brewer to Olu Famutimi and a rout looked possible as the Razorbacks raced ahead 9-2 early.
Once Troy made a few baskets, it was able to set up its press and fluster Arkansas.
"It was sort of a new press we faced," Brewer said. "We were overexcited and rushing things. We weren't comfortable with what we were doing. When we did, it really showed."
A missed alley-oop by Famutimi led to a rare Troy make from outside and the lead was 47-42 less than three minutes into the second half.
Famutimi made up for it by hitting the offensive glass and converting a 3-point play, Ferguson scored six consecutive points, Jefferson hit a 3-pointer, Charles Thomas made two free throws and Darian Townes made a nice turnaround jumper for 13 unanswered points.
Brewer then took a steal coast to coast for a shot-clock rattling dunk and Arkansas was ahead 65-44 with 11:25 left in the game.
"We just wear them out because we have so much depth," Modica said. "We keep grinding. We grind the other team down until they give up and make a lot of mental mistakes becauses they're tired."
Eastern Michigan beat Austin Peay and Saint Louis to earn a berth in the title game from the St. John bracket and will be the best team the Razorbacks have played this year.
"I've heard a lot about them," Modica said. "I know they're a tough team and they play hard. But we're going to go out there and just try to kill them.
"We're a tough team also. We'll try to throw the punch right back at them."
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