Fans, Players Rally Around Modica

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas fans were giving Jonathon "Pookie" Modica words of encouragement even before the junior touched the basketball during Thursday's 96-68 win against Tennessee State at Bud Walton Arena.

"Let's go Pook!" and "You can do it Pookie!" were a just few of the chants that rained down from the Razorback student section when Modica came off the bench with just under 16 minutes remaining in the first half.

"I heard a little bit of it," Modica said. "I'm happy to get that kind of support from the crowd, from the fans, because believe it or not, I need it right now.

"As a person and as a player, I need it."

The cheers grew louder as Modica drained his first shot attempt, a 3-pointer from the right wing, with 11:53 remaining in the first half. He ended up playing 15 minutes and had eight points, three rebounds and two assists.

He capped it all with a powerful, two-handed dunk in the final minutes before heading back to the bench.

"I knew he could get it going again," said Hogs freshman Charles Thomas. "I know what Pookie can do, all summer I saw it and in practice I've seen it and (Thursday) night, he showed everybody else."

Modica, an all-Southeastern Conference performer and the team's leading scorer a year ago, played a combined 25 minutes in the Hogs' previous two outings and had more turnovers (6) than points (5).

"I lost my head at the beginning of the season," Modica said. "I was thinking entirely too much and it wasn't working."

But Modica appeared as comfortable as ever Thursday and some of it might have had to do with a wardrobe change. He went sleeveless for the first time after wearing a T-shirt under his No. 24 jersey through the first seven games.

"I just tried to go out there and make myself feel a little bit lighter," Modica said. "It's all psychological, but still, it works sometimes. The better you feel, the more confidence you have and most of the time, your shots are going to go in."

Teammates noticed the difference in Modica, who seemed to walk with a bit of his old swagger even when the ball wasn't in play.

"It was very nice to see Pookie playing the way Pookie plays again because we're going to need that in (Southeastern Conference) play," said sophomore Ronnie Brewer. "His confidence is starting to grow and you can even see it in practice because he's really playing better."

Arkansas coach Stan Heath said Modica was more aggressive than he has been and added that this is only a sign of things to come for one of his two team captains.

"I think he can get to another level and he will," Heath said. "I know it was good for him to get back into the flow of everything."

Modica said one of the keys to staying positive through his slump has been in the way his teammates have rallied around him.

"My team has been very supportive of me," Modica said. "I appreciate all the support."

Asked if he felt like he was out of his slump, Modica gave a quick answer.

"I definitely do," Modica said. "I was in something and now I feel good, man.

"I feel confident."

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