Hogs Hold Off Bears, Barely

FAYETTEVILLE -- Eric Ferguson's three-point play on an alert fast-break pass by Dontell Jefferson gave Arkansas a 74-70 lead over Missouri State with 1 minute, 11 seconds left and the Razorbacks went on to edge the Bears 78-74 before 13,818 fairly active fans in Bud Walton Arena on Thursday night.

"I was just running the lane and Dontell saw me and got me the ball in transition and they fouled me," Ferguson said.

Arkansas (7-2) won its fifth straight game and spoiled the perfect record of Missouri State (6-1).

The postgame buzz was all about the Bears making just 5-of-21 3-point shots; Ronnie Brewer leading the Razorbacks with 19 points; and Bears ace Blake Ahearn making just 5-of-18 from the field.

But feisty Missouri State coach Barry Hinson had another take on the game in a chaotic interview-room session that somehow had Hogs players taking questions on one end while the Bears sat on a stage and answered questions at the same time on the other end.

"Our offensive execution in the first half was so bad that it caused offense for Arkansas," Hinson said. "Their press bothered us --we played bad because they made us play bad. At halftime I said, 'Calm down.' I was proud of the way we competed in the second half."

After committing 14 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, including two on inbounds passes, Missouri State had just seven turnovers in the second half while rallying from a 44-31 halftime deficit to take a 62-61 lead on a Dale Lamberth 3-pointer with 7:05 to go.

"I thought we were going to win the game then," Hinson said.

But Arkansas responded with a Steven Hill tip-in and a Ferguson jumper for a 65-62 lead. The Bears took one more lead at 66-65 on guard Tyler Chaney's layup, but Brewer answered with a fast-break layup and Arkansas hung on from there.

"Brewer made a big-time shot down the stretch," Hinson said, referring to the Hog junior's one-on-one move and jumper for a 76-70 lead with 35 seconds left.

Ahearn echoed, "A player of that caliber (Brewer) is going to try to take over at the end of the game. I compliment him."

Ahearn, Hinson and Hogs coach Stan Heath all talked about the length and athleticism of Arkansas' defenders against the Missouri State 3-point attack, but Ferguson said, "I think they just missed a lot of shots on their own."

Both teams made bunches of layups -- Arkansas in transition and Missouri State on drives off set plays.

"It was like two-line layups for Arkansas for awhile," Ahearn said.

Heath said the Hogs tweaked their defense to guard the threes, resulting in "many more driving opportunities by our opponent."

Charles Thomas (17 points, 8 rebounds) carried Arkansas early, aided inside by Darian Townes (15 points, 7 rebounds).

Ahearn led the Bears with 16 points -- five below his average -- followed by Chaney with 14 and center Sky Frazier with 13.

Missouri State won the board battle 38-36, but Arkansas led in blocked shots (10-5) and steals (13-9).

Brewer led the Hogs with five steals, and Hill had six blocks, including one from point-blank range down the stretch.

"It was a terrific college basketball game," Heath said. "Both teams fought hard for it. I'm ecstatic about how well we played defensively. Missouri State didn't get many clean looks --maybe a couple here or there."

Heath praised Jefferson for his four blocked shots, to go with 10 points and six assists.

Ferguson scored 11 points off the bench.

"Our upperclassmen played well down the stretch," Heath said. "This team has a winning attitude. They don't want to lose. We've been very successful in late-possession games."

The Hogs are 4-0 in games decided by six points or fewer.

Now they must quickly get ready to play host to Rice at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Alltel Arena in North Little Rock.

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