Paradise Won

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands -- Eastern Michigan warmed up like it was getting ready for a track meet, and Arkansas gave it one.

The Eagles did every calisthenic in their pregame routine from the hurdler's stretch to the downward facing dog, but they weren't nearly loose enough for what the Razorbacks would unleash on them during the championship game of the 2004 Paradise Jam.

Eastern Michigan didn't make its eighth field goal until the halftime buzzer while the Razorbacks hit just about everything during the first half of their 82-64 win before a tourney record crowd of 3,010.

Led by all-tournament selections Eric Ferguson and MVP Ronnie Brewer, Arkansas (3-0) won its first tournament championship since the 2000 Southeastern Conference Tournament and its first in-season tourney since the 1995 Maui Invitational.

Arkansas defeated its three opponents by a tournament-record average of 25.3 points per game.

"This is what we came down here to do," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath. "We came down here to win three and we got three. The margin of victory was phenomenal."

Ferguson was once again the spark for Arkansas in his new role off the bench and he scored a team-high 20 points (7 of 11 shooting) along with 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.

Darryl Garrett of Eastern Michigan led all scorers with 21 on 6 of 11 shooting.

Ferguson had a strong case to be the tournament MVP after scoring 15.6 points per game and shooting 56.5 percent (18 of 32) from the field.

Brewer, who had 18 (7 of 10) against Eastern Michigan along with 6 assists, 2 blocks, 3 steals, also averaged 15.6 points in the three games.

Jonathon Modica added 14 and Steven Hill had a game-high 6 rebounds, including two offensive boards late in the game with Eastern Michigan trying to rally.

"It feels good," Ferguson said. "It just feels good to be on an all-tournament team because I've been through a lot since I've been at Arkansas. It just shows it doesn't matter if you come off the bench or not."

Arkansas' defense continued to be stingy against a veteran Eastern Michigan team.

The Razorbacks held their fifth straight opponent to 20 field goals or less, limiting the Eagles to 17 of 50 shooting (34.5 percent).

Arkansas shot 18 of 27 (66.7 percent) in the first half while holding Eastern Michigan to 8 of 24.

"The whole key to the game was their pressure," said Eastern Michigan coach John Boone. "It made us tentative and we quit doing what we do because of their pressure. We handled it a little better in the second half, but they wore us down."

The score could have really gotten out of hand, but Arkansas committed 19 turnovers and fell into some lazy tendencies of settling for 3-pointers with a 20-point lead in the second half.

The Eagles used a 10-1 run to cut Arkansas' lead to 11, 65-54, after two long misses and two turnovers by the Razorbacks.

But Arkansas responded with a 9-0 run of its own keyed by two hustle plays by freshman Charles Thomas, who collected two defensive boards, hit a fallaway as the shot clock expired and then stole a rebound after a missed free throw and laid it in to boost Arkansas back to a 74-54 lead.

"It was the third game (of the tournament), you could tell," Heath said. "It wasn't as crisp or clean as I'd like. Give credit to Eastern Michigan. A lot of experienced guys, gritty guys. They weren't going to pack it in.

"When we needed stops, or rebounds at a critical time, we got it."

Eastern Michigan was clearly the best team Arkansas has faced so far in this young season.

The Eagles were the first team the Razorbacks have played to have won a game, to have experience and an inside presence.

Arkansas' first two victims -- Winthrop and Troy -- lost three and five starters from last season's teams, and neither had an inside player like Eastern Michigan's John Bowler, who was averaging nearly a double-double through the first two games of the tournament.

Bowler, who fouled out with 13 points and 6 rebounds, got his second foul at the 7:14 mark of the first half and Arkansas went 10 minutes without allowing a field goal.

The Eagles hung around by making 28 of 36 free throws and showed that veteran character by coming back on Arkansas in a way its previous opponents didn't, but the Razorbacks never really lost control of the game despite a shaky period when they could have.

"We wanted to put a full 40 minute game together and jump on a team from the start," Brewer said. "We didn't want them to stay in the game.

"We controlled the game from the tip and we really didn't let go or let off of them."

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