Hogs Finally Break Away

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas couldn't smile about its home opener until freshman center Darian Townes sank a 3-pointer with 52 seconds left.

Before Townes and Eric Ferguson shared a laugh after Townes' improbable make Saturday afternoon, Arkansas had worn its game face a little longer than usual while trying to shake free of the dogged bunch from Gardner-Webb.

Led by 10 points and 5 rebounds from Townes, the Razorbacks got the most offensive production from their post players all season and used another strong second half to pull away from Gardner-Webb 79-63 in front of 10,343 in Bud Walton Arena.

Arkansas (4-0) led just 27-24 at halftime against the Runnin' Bulldogs (2-1) after being outrebounded 22-21 and shooting 34.3 percent, its worst average for a half this season.

The Razorbacks outrebounded GWU by six in the second half, shot a steamy 70.8 percent from the field (17 of 24) and were again led in scoring by Ferguson off the bench to win their fourth straight convincingly.

"We'll take any win," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath. "It was our first home game and guys really want to do well in front of the fans.

"It didn't click in the first half, but it came on in the second."

Ferguson, who's averaging 15.7 points and tied his career high in the Paradise Jam title game on Monday with 20, scored 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting and ripped 4 of Arkansas' 14 steals.

"I'm just going out and playing hard," Ferguson said. "I know at the end of the game everything is going to show for itself.

"I just want to bring that effort and hopefully my teammates will feed off of that."

Arkansas will be at home again Tuesday night against improved Tulsa before playing No. 5 Illinois in North Little Rock on Dec. 4 and at Missouri on Dec. 7.

The Razorbacks knew better than to take the Runnin' Bulldogs lightly after they whipped up on East Carolina 90-60 on Tuesday. And GWU showed its mettle early despite turning it over 11 times in the first half.

"I don't think they took us lightly," said Gardner-Webb coach Rick Scruggs. "It was their home opener and we were hoping they'd be a little tight, a little excited and we wanted to use that excitement against them. I think early, we did."

The Runnin' Bulldogs used a 7-2 run to narrow the Razorbacks' lead just before halftime, helped by Arkansas misses and defensive lapses.

"We knew (Gardner-Webb was) a good team," said sophomore captain Ronnie Brewer, who didn't start for the first time in 32 career games after being five minutes late for a practice last week.

"They outhustled us on a lot of plays and had a lot of heart. We can't have that happen if we want to be a successful team. We have to play strong the entire game."

Led by Townes' career-high 10 points and junior Rashard Sullivan's 7 rebounds, Arkansas got 28 points and 18 boards from its inside players.

Freshman forward Charles Thomas made the first start of his career and scored 8 points on 4 of 7 shooting along with 5 rebounds.

Junior transfer point guard Dontell Jefferson also made his first career start for Arkansas and had 8 points, 3 assists and 3 steals with just 1 turnover.

Arkansas scored 42 points in the paint and went to the foul line 24 times in the second half after going just 2 of 3 in the first.

After Townes scored just 2 in the first half, he was 3 of 3 in the second with a turnaround jumper, a tip-in and the long 3-pointer to go with 5 rebounds.

The Razorbacks settled down and took better shots, leading to the higher percentage in the second half, and they cut their 17 turnovers per game average to 13 against the Bulldogs.

"Instead of just jacking up shots on the first pass, we moved the ball around, hit the post, and that allowed the wings to open up for 3s and allowed our big men down low to do their thing," said sophomore swingman Olu Famutimi, who scored 9 points on 3 of 10 shooting.

Four Gardner-Webb starters scored in double figures, led by Brian Bender's 17 and the Bulldogs hit 6 of 9 3-pointers in the second half.

In contrast, all three of Arkansas' double-figure scorers came off the bench, though that number is a bit skewed considering Brewer was technically a reserve on Saturday.

After consecutive baskets by Bulldogs forward Mike Jones, including a rim-rattling dunk to cut it to 35-33, it was again Ferguson's time to spark the Hogs.

He checked in at the first media timeout of the second half, promptly collected a steal and went the other way for a layup.

Arkansas' aggressive play got Gardner-Webb in the bonus with more than eight minutes to play and the Razorbacks scored nine straight points from the foul line during one stretch to push the lead to 52-45.

Still, GWU refused to tuck its tail until Ferguson took the game over with seven straight points and several key defensive plays. He got a steal and threw a long pass for a Brewer dunk to put Arkansas ahead 59-47, hit a floater to make it 61-47, took a defensive rebound coast-to-coast for a 63-50 lead, made another steal and threw it off a Bulldog before hitting a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to put Arkansas up 66-53.

Heath is concerned about his team's rebounding after being outboarded in the first half by two of its last three smaller opponents.

Tulsa and Illinois are just as big, if not bigger, than Arkansas and will pose serious challenges on the glass.

"Our defense has to get better, our rebounding has to get better," Heath said. "We're still taking baby steps to get better. We'll take any win we can get and get ready to play Tulsa."

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