NORTH LITTLE ROCK - The University of Arkansas got off to slow start here Saturday night in their only Central Arkansas basketball appearance of the season, but gave folks their money's worth in the second half.
Ronnie Brewer had 17 points, Darian Townes a season-high 16, hot-shooting Jonathon Modica 15 and Eric Ferguson a season-high 13 as Arkansas exploded for 50 total in the second half to rout old SWC foe Rice 80-61 before 10,981 fans at Alltel Arena.
Pookie" Modica absolutely shut the door on the Owls with a nine-point, 58-second scoring spree that surged Arkansas ahead 73-46 with 7:48 left in the contest after the Razorbacks had taken just a two-point lead lead into the locker room at halftime and felt the wrath of head coach Stan Heath.
"There were challenges out there for them (at halftime) and fortunately the guys responded," Heath said. "I think they knew they weren't playing the way they should have been playing.
"I told these guys we have got a lot of fans down here that follow the Razorbacks and don't get a chance to see you all the time and have some tremendous loyalty - win lose or draw," Heath added. "I come down here during the summer and people are just unbelievable how they treat me. I want our guys to play well here. I thought the crowd really got into the game and I thought they gave us a nice little boost, especially in that second half when things got going. We were feeding off each other."
The blowout win was the sixth victory in a row for the Razorbacks (8-2) and pushed their series lead over the Owls (4-5) to 101-40 in their first meeting since 1991 with another old SWC foe in Texas Tech looming on deck Wednesday night in Dallas.
Part of the second half push was brought about by a 23-12 board advantage for Arkansas on the boards and 50 percent shooting from the field.
"They were kicking our butts on the boards in the first half and we kicked their butts in the second half on the glass," Heath said. "Not only were we getting a few more deflections and steals that led to transistion, but we were getting some rebound outlets for transition.
"When they went zone I thought we did a great job getting it in, getting it out, scoring inside, scoring outside, penetrating," Heath said. "We probably played our best game against a zone in that second half. We were very efficient and very effective."
Arkansas led just 30-28 at halftime, but the Razorbacks knocked down 7 of their 9 3-pointers in the game after intermission were steady through from the free throw line while shooting 82.6 percent (19-of-23) from the free throw line.
Sophomore Charles Thomas said Heath did his best Bobby Knight impression at half.
"I don't think they listen to anything I said in the pregame," Heath said. "So a lot of things that were in the pregame I just re-emphasized in the second half. It was more about personal challenges than anything else. I didn't think some guys were playing at the level they could be playing at. They know it and I thought they stepped out there in the second half and played with more emotion, which they should have been playing with in the first half."
Brewer, who also had 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks, did not score in the first 12 minutes of the game and had just six points at the break and Thomas was scoreless.
But the pair were the catalysts in the early 10-0 second half spurt that came in less than two minutes opened up a nice working cushion for the Razorbacks.
Thomas put in a rebound basket, Brewer got a fast-break slam, Thomas added two free throws and another lay-up and then Brewer got loose for a short jumper that got Arkansas ahead 40-28 with 18:08 remaining.
Rice had 4 of its 18 turnovers immediately after the break as Arkansas opened up in a press.
"They got the tempo where they wanted it and we did a really poor job of coming out in the second half," Rice coach Willis Wilson said. "That is not up to the level that we usually play. Their pressure should not have bothered us as much as it did."
Ferguson continued to snap out of his early season shooting slump by knocking down 3 of his 5 second-half 3-pointers, including the third one that put Arkansas up 64-46.
Modica then went on his tear, first converting an old-fashion 3-point play, bombing a 3-pointer and then pulling up from NBA 3-point range and swishing another for nine straight points in less than a minute.
"Those shots were just really big and just open up things so much for us inside," Heath said. "It was great to get those guys going."
Even Little Rock native Sammy Munsey got in the bombing before it was over, swishing a deep 3-pointer off an assist from Preston Cranford to put Arkansas ahead 80-57 with just over a minute left.
"I'm still looking for that elusive two-half performance, but we did some good things in the second half that we had not been doing after halftime," Heath said. "Now it's just a matter of putting it all together."
Morris Almond had a game-high 25 points for Rice while J.R. Harrison added 15 for the Owls, whose biggest win this season was a three-overtime one over visiting Utah.
Arkansas scored the final four points of the first half and the first 10 of the second half to make it a 14-0 run that essentially put away the visitors.
Almond had 14 of his points in the first half, but didn't score for the first 15-plus minutes of the second half.
"When they came out and went on an 11-0 run it just put us out of whack and it really just set the tone for the remainder of the game.
Almond certainly looked like the best player on the floor during the first half when he put in 14 points - half of his team's total - on a variety of driving lay-ups, dunks and jump shots.
Townes came off the bench with a fire early on as well, putting all 8 of his first-half points during an stretch in which Arkansas scored 11 unanswered ones and rallied from a six-point deficit to to a 16-11 lead.
Almond rallied Rice within one later in the half - and after Arkansas got back out by seven - the Owls ripped off nine straight points with Almond's basket pushed the visitors ahead 28-26 with 3:40 left in the half.
Eric Ferguson's jumper at the 2:50 mark tied it and Townes' shot in the lane with 1:26 capped the first half scoring and sent Arkansas into the break with a 30-28 lead.
But the Razorbacks then took the game away quickly from Rice, who went almost six minutes without scoring late in the first half into the second half.
"It was hard for us to get touches when we turned it over on our first touches," Wilson said. "We weren't patient."
Arkansas will try to add its third Big 12 scalp in as many tries this season when it meets head coach Bobby Knght's Texas Tech at American Airlines Arena in a 9 p.m. game that will be televised by ESPN2.
"It is probably our first trip in somebody else's back yard in some ways and I am hoping we have a lot of fans in Dallas ourselves," Heath said. "in the past history we use to and I think we still will. Bobby Knight is one of the best coaches in college basketball and his teams are always tough and hard to play against."
Arkansas 80, Rice 61
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