Paradise Found?

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands -- Arkansas learned much more than the fun of snorkeling during the Paradise Jam.

The Razorbacks discovered what kind of team they can be.

Arkansas (3-0) maintained its steely defensive pressure and above average shooting to make its three opponents look no different than the Razorbacks' first two exhibition warm-ups while winning the four-day tournament.

The Hogs also figured out how to get up for a challenge and how to respond to one, a hurdle many teams have trouble clearing and one Arkansas often stumbled over last year.

Most important, they learned what it's like to win.

"We plan on doing that all season in a couple more tournaments, hopefully," said sophomore Olu Famutimi, who averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds in the three wins.

"This is our first championship," said junior guard and all-tournament selection Eric Ferguson. "And now we know how it feels to win a championship."

Arkansas beat the two other teams with winning records (Winthrop, Eastern Michigan) handily, scoring 81 points per game and winning by a margin of 25.3, both records for the six-year-old tournament, while holding its opponents to 30.2 percent shooting.

"They want to win," said coach Stan Heath. "They're a hungry team hunting people down and doing a good job out there."

The Razorbacks' lowest shooting night was a 47.7 percent effort in their 89-54 win against Troy, partially because the Trojans' uptempo style led to a tourney-high 65 field-goal attempts.

Overall, the Hogs averaged 51.5 percent from the field (85 of 165) and 47.1 percent from the 3-point line (25-53).

Perimeter shooting was much improved.

"We've been working on our jumpers in the off-season and I think we go out there with confidence," said tournament MVP Ronnie Brewer, who sank half his shots while averaging 15.6 points. "We were taking good shots and knocking them down."

On a Monday night when Heath cited fatigue as a partial reason for the 24 fouls that sent Eastern Michigan to the line 36 times, the Razorbacks had their best shooting demonstration of the tournament, netting 54.5 percent from the field.

The Razorbacks got key contributions from nine players in all three games and their depth and athleticism was consistently cited by opposing coaches as difficult to match.

Arkansas also got tired of letting teams lurk throughout the first half and with a concerted effort locked down Eastern Michigan in the first half. By the third media timeout, Arkansas was 10 of 15 while the Eagles were 2 of 14 and the Razorbacks would have led by 20 at halftime if not for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

"I think they're good," said Eastern Michigan coach Jim Boone, whose team was held without a field goal for a 10-minute stretch in the first half and a five-minute span in the second.

"I like their team. If they can shoot the ball the way they shot it at times (Monday) on a consistent basis ... because I think they're really good defensively. They're long, they're quick, the coaching staff has done a nice job setting them up in a way that is very conducive to their athleticism.

"I don't want to play them again real soon."

The Razorbacks hit four 3-pointers in a row at one point -- one each by Mike Jones, Dontell Jefferson, Ferguson and Famutimi -- against the Eagles' 2-3 zone.

The makes came after several ball reversals, skip passes and designed plays, stretching Arkansas' lead from 18-14 to 32-19.

"They did a great job breaking our defense down," Boone said. "They were really good."

Arkansas was just as good defensively.

Because of fullcourt pressure and the inside presence of Steven Hill, Darian Townes and Rashard Sullivan, there were few opportunities for teams to get open looks or even cross halfcourt before being caught for backcourt violations.

Winthrop, Troy and Eastern Michigan combined for just 19 assists in three games and Arkansas blocked 24 shots, led by Hill's 10. Both totals were tournament records.

Winthrop avoided two 10-second calls with timeouts in the nick of time and Eastern Michigan narrowly avoided two before getting called for one early in the first half.

But it wasn't perfect.

The Razorbacks struggled at times on fast breaks, missing some dunks and turning the ball over 17 times per game.

They also had periodic bouts of individual play at the expense of the offense.

But Arkansas forced 17 turnovers per game and often negated its miscues with an immediate takeaway or a rebound.

Ferguson emerged as a candidate for the best sixth man in the Southeastern Conference. He averaged 15.6 points, and almost 2 steals while tying his career high with 20 points against Eastern Michigan.

Freshmen Hill and Townes came on as defensive anchors and each showed spurts of offensive promise. Hill had some putbacks and flushed an alley-oop on a fast break. Townes finally settled, hitting a couple of solid turnaround jumpers and blocking 6 shots in three games.

Freshman forward Charles Thomas, like Ferguson, is another impact player off the bench and made a series of big plays when the championship game was close.

Jonathon Modica scored 14 twice and averaged 11 for the tournament and was one of three Razorbacks with 3 assists against Troy.

After a week when preseason top-10 teams Arizona and North Carolina lost to Virginia and Santa Clara, respectively, and Louisville got a severe test from BYU-Hawaii, Arkansas learned the value of consistent, hard play and was rewarded with three wins and much more to take home than a replica steel drum mounted on a plaque.

"We'll look at this and realize we played well, but we can play a lot better," Heath said.

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