Modica Bests Gardner; Hogs Nip Mizzou

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas guard Jonathon Modica took umbrage when he read in a newspaper that Missouri guard Thomas Gardner should have an edge in their matchup Friday night.

So Modica outscored Gardner 19-11 to help the Razorbacks defeat Mizzou 66-63 in a thriller before 17,427 fans in Bud Walton Arena, and then talked about it.

"Somebody had Gardner rated better than me, and I took that as an insult," Modica said. "I guarded him the whole game, man. I play every man the same -- I don't care who he is. He's in my house, and he's got to prepare for me."

It was Modica's follow shot and 3-point play that put Arkansas up 63-61 with 1 minute, 11 seconds left, after the Hogs (5-2) had squandered a 15-point lead (31-16).

From there, things got harrowing for Arkansas..

Ronnie Brewer (game-high 20 points) made one free throw for a 64-61 Arkansas lead, but Kevin Young's tip-in of a missed free throw pulled the Tigers (2-2) within 64-63 with 9.3 seconds left.

Dontell Jefferson made two free throws for a 66-63 Arkansas edge, and UA coach Stan Heath directed Eric Ferguson to foul Missouri forward Jason Horton before he could try a tying 3-pointer.

The strategy backfired somewhat as Missouri rebounded Horton's missed one-and-one and Melvin Watkins tried a 3-pointer that looked good, but rimmed out. One missed tip later, the game finally ended.

"Missouri hit some tough shots," Heath said. "They made some I didn't think were going in, but that last one looked pretty good."

The Tigers hit five 3-pointers in a row at one point down the stretch, and 9-of-18 in all.

"Every game is a learning experience," Brewer said. "Missouri played really hard, and we need to get better at finding the shooters. We let them get the lead, but we didn't lose on our home court and that's a goal of ours. A win is a win."

After Horton put Missouri ahead for the first time in the second half with a 3-pointer for 58-57 at 2:06, Brewer responded with a three of his own for a 60-58 UA lead with 1:43 to go.

"Arkansas did a great job of playing to their strength," said Missouri coach Quin Snyder. "Brewer made every big play down the stretch. He raises everyone's level."

That included Darian Townes, who had 8 points, a team-high 7 rebounds and 6 blocked shots for Arkansas. Townes padded his Southeastern Conference lead in blocked shots.

Gardner played well at the end for Missouri, but Jefferson and Steven Hill combined to stop him from point-blank range with Arkansas leading 64-61. That could have been the clincher, but Ferguson missed two free throws with 17.4 seconds left to give Mizzou a chance.

Jefferson said, "I thought I played good defense against Gardner at the end. And I felt comfortable at the free throw line. I remember making 4-of-4 free throws against them last year like it was yesterday."

Modica thanked Heath for "having enough faith in me to have me guard Gardner."

Young led Missouri with 13 points, even with Arkansas' guards helping on him down the stretch. Snyder credited forward Marshall Brown (10 points) with inspiring the Tigers during every timeout.

Arkansas held a 32-27 rebounding advantage -- a big item, considering how close the Tigers came to pulling the upset.

Brewer noted, "Townes, Steven Hill and Charles Thomas held their own out there and gave us the chance to win. I feel lucky to play with those guys."

Brewer said he was proud that he and Modica came through at the end, "when it was looking like we had a lack of leadership."

Snyder could appreciate those sentiments.

"I think Brewer and Modica are a great combination together," Snyder said.

Add in Jefferson, who had six assists and one turnover despite a foul-plagued first half.

Heath pointed out that Arkansas lost leads against both Kansas and Missouri before pulling out wins against both.

Like Kansas coach Bill Self earlier, Snyder couldn't fault his team in the final minutes.

"It was fun to see our poise," he said. "We trusted each other and didn't let the crowd rattle us."

Twice in the last 11.6 seconds, Heath had Arkansas foul with a 3-point lead.

In Maui, he had watched Gonzaga lose a 3-point lead late in regulation by allowing Michigan State to shoot a three and make it. (Gonzaga still won in triple-overtime.)

"I would have fouled," he said then. "But don't tell anybody."

Now his secret is out.

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