With it's SEC Western Division and maybe NCAA Tournament hopes on life support Saturday afternoon, the University of Arkansas breathed a little life back into its season.
It wasn't easy, but this time the Razorbacks answered the bell early and late.
Darian Townes and Jonathon Modica combined for 11 straight points late after red-hot Vanderbilt had totally erased a 11-point second half lead to spark the Razorbacks to a much-needed 78-66 win over the Commodores before a season-high crowd of 18,723 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"What a great crowd today and I am so proud of the way our team responded," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "They showed a lot of heart and a lot of character."
Modica had 19 points, Townes 17 and Charles Thomas 15 points off the bench for the Razorbacks (12-4, 1-2), who shot 53 percent from the field, 75 percent from the line, outrebounded Vanderbilt 39-20 and scored 23 of the game's last 34 points.
Ronnie Brewer, the SEC's leading scorer, had nine point and led the board attack with a career-high 11 as the entire starting lineup grabbed at least five rebounds each while halting a two-game losing streak.
"For us to bounce back today, it really shows our character after we started 0-2 (in SEC play)," Brewer said. "We've been really struggling with rebounds and I wanted to give my team a boost."
Shan Foster had 22 points, Derrick Byars 17, Alex Gordon 11 and Julian Terrell 10 for Vanderbilt (11-3, 2-1), who had won six of its last seven games and came into this game off a 57-52 win at Kentucky.
"I thought the story of the day was that Arkansas was better at every turn of the game than we were," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "We wanted to out-aggress and out-energize them and we were not able to do that. They played with more energy. They dominated on the backboards so it was a tough day for us."
Modica said it was as much the Razorbacks' defensive effort as it's offensive one that won the game for them on Saturday.
"We basically wanted to make sure we didn't give up any backdoor cuts and when we took that away from them, it really threw them off," Modica said.
The Razorbacks also got a big lift from their bench with Thomas, Ferguson, freshman point guard Sean McCurdy combining for 26 points, rebounds and three steals in a combined 36 minutes of action.
While McCurdy had just three points and one assist in 13 minutes (11 in the first half), the Razorbacks expanded their lead during with he and Ferguson on the court because it opened up the middle and spacing on the floor.
"Our bench brought us a lot of energy," Modica said. "We need Eric and Sean to continue to push the ball and bring energy."
Arkansas, who had lost at Mississippi State and at home to LSU to open SEC play, had a 44-33 advantage early in the second half before the Commodores got themselves back in the game.
Byars' 3-pointer capped that comeback and tied the game 55-55 with 7:05 remaining.
Stallings said it was a switch from a zone defense to a man-to-man that actually got his team back in it after the Razorbacks had destroyed the zone in the opening half.
"We went to man because in zone defense we would stop them on that first possession and then we wouldn't be able to get the rebound," Stallings said. "It would've been nice to control the game and historically they play better against man than zone, but we weren't able to rebound."
Townes hit two free throws and then got loose twice for baskets in the lane around a Vandy make to get his team back ahead 61-57 with 5:32 remaining.
Modica then scored the next five - an old fashioned 3-point play and a coast-to-coast drive for a 66-57 lead at the 4:10 mark and the visitors would never cut the lead to less than seven points from that point on.
"They fought hard to get back in the game and we made some mistakes but I am so proud of the way our guys dug in once they got it tied and would not let this one get away," Heath said. "We were agressive on offense and defense from that point on and really brought it home."
Steven Hill's slam off a pass from Dontell Jefferson, who had six assists, put an exclamation point on the win when it put the Razorbacks up 76-61 with 1:11 left.
"We got their big men in foul trouble so they relaxed in the post and we decided to attack them," Townes said. "This was a big win. We controlled the tempo throughout the game."
That was something Stallings agreed with.
"We did not want to play as fast as they did, but they made us play a more up tempo game with their defense," Stallings said. "They just imposed their will on us for most of the game - especially in the first half."
Sparked by its half-court defense, Arkansas opened up itself a nice cushion in the first half with a 10-2 run midway through the stanza.
Modica started it with four free throws and then Steven Hill tipped in a miss with to put the Razorbacks ahead 18-12 with 8:17 left in the first half.
Terrell stopped the Vandy bleeding for a minute with a basket, but McCurdy then drove the lane for his own basket and fed Townes for a stuff to surge the Razorbacks ahead 22-14 with 5:18 left in the half.
Townes' old-fashioned three-point play put his team up 28-18 and although Vandy did cut that lead in half, the Razorbacks then finished the opening half strong unlike they did Wednesday night in a home loss to LSU.
Brewer scored on a rebound basket, Ferguson broke down his defender on a drive to the basket and then Townes - who struggled the first few minutes of the game - then capped the scoring by grabbing his own rebound and cashing it in for a 34-23 advantage with 22.7 left on the clock.
"I think he (Townes) is one of the best offensive post players in this league," Stallings said. "He is very, very talented. He has good touch in the post and is very long."
Arkansas then punctuated their first half defensive effort by not allowing Vandy to get off a shot before intermission.
The Commodores, who hit 11-of-22 3-pointers on the day, but just 11 of 36 2-pointers, made just nine shots in the opening half - four from beyond the arc.
"Vanderbilt is an outstanding shooting team," Heath said. 'They were 38 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line. They are better from outside than inside. They were difficult to guard. We had to take away their layups and free throws. We did a great job of that."
The Razorbacks, who had a 34-23 lead at half, got that to 11 points again in the second half when Thomas drove the lane for a basket that put Arkansas up 44-33 with 14:06 left in the game.
But the Commodores, coming off a 57-52 win at Kentucky, didn't let the Arkansas crowd get to them in the second half as it did in the first.
Vanderbilt medthodically worked its way back into the game by scoring 24 of the game's next 34 points, including five straight that got it within 54-52 when Terrell scored inside at the 8:40 mark.
That 24-10 run was capped by Byars' 3 -pointer that tied the game 55-55 with 7:05 remaining.
That set up the late heroics as the Razorbacks, who won despite having 18 turnovers, by shooting the ball well, forcing the Commodores into 37.9 percent from the floor and having seven blocks -including three each by Hill and Townes.
"They have great athletes and have a great defensive presence inside," Stallings said. "They have enough shooting. They are just really, really athletic and long. We would get inside and Hill would block the shots. He played better defense than we did offense."
Arkansas now hits the road for a pair of games with a contest Wednesday night at Alabama and a Saturday afternoon game at Auburn.
"Our team got into a rhythm tonight and I think we can begin a nice roll," Heath said. "We need to win on the road."
The Razorbacks played before a season-high crowd for the second straight game with 18,723 showing up on Saturday.
Dontell Jefferson, who had a team-high six assists on Saturday, talks things over with UA head coach Stan Heath late in the game.
Arkansas 78, Vanderbilt 66
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