Hogs Swipe SEC Opener

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas point guard Eric Ferguson has been around long enough to understand the keys to success during the rugged 16-game Southeastern Conference season

That's why the junior was satisfied, but not surprised, to see how quickly the Razorbacks' defense turned a tight first half into a 69-46 win against Ole Miss on Wednesday night in Bud Walton Arena.

"That's what wins games," Ferguson said with a shrug of his shoulders.

The Hogs opened the conference schedule by leaning on their defense to set up easy baskets in the second half of their double-digit win. Arkansas' ball-hawking group harassed the Rebels after the break, collected 11 steals, forced 18 miscues and turned Ole Miss' errors into 22 points.

The Razorbacks scored 25 points off 24 turnovers and recorded 13 steals in the game.

"We know we're a second-half team so we tried to go out there and wear them down," said Arkansas guard Jonathon Modica, who finished with 9 points. "(The win) was because of our defense. The defense sparked our team in the second half."

Modica was one of several Hogs to play a big role in a decisive, five-minute stretch that saw the Razorbacks turn a 13-point lead into a 22-point cushion.

After a Darian Townes dunk gave the Razorbacks a 46-33 lead, Modica picked off a bad pass by Ole Miss forward Kendrick Fox and raced downcourt for a layup. On the next possession, swingman Ronnie Brewer collected one of his game-high five steals and flipped the ball to Modica for another layup that gave Arkansas a 50-33 lead.

Ferguson, Brewer and Olu Famutimi added steals a few minutes later, all of which resulted in easy transition points en route to a 62-40 lead.

"It was a point in the game where we felt like we had control," Modica said. "It gave us a sense of control and that's what we wanted. We continued to play hard and felt that they were a little rattled after the pressure and the steals we got."

But it wasn't as easy in the first half for the Razorbacks, who entered the game leading the SEC in steals (10.5 a game). The Rebels protected the basketball before the break and stayed close by turning the ball over only six times.

Arkansas scored just three points off Ole Miss' turnovers.

"We relaxed in the first half and we knew when we came in the locker room that if we didn't buckle down on defense it would be a close game," Ferguson said. "So when we went back in the second half we buckled down on defense and that's what changed the whole game around."

In the end, Arkansas coach Stan Heath said the Razorbacks had more depth than the Rebels, who were playing without second-leading scorer Tommie Eddie (personal reasons). The advantage led to handfuls of steals, plenty of deflections and important layups, free throws and easy baskets in the second half.

"We turned it over too many times at a crucial point," said Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes. "We didn't do a good job in the second half."

The Hogs did. And they're hoping it'll continue Saturday at Florida.

"We just provided more pressure," Brewer said. "We started playing the lanes a little harder, defending and not giving up any penetration. They started turning the ball over a lot and we just stuck with what we were doing all season long.

"Our defense leads to our offense. Once we started making defensive plays, it led to our offense and we got easy points."

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