Hogs Hit On All Cylinders

FAYETTEVILLE -- Call Arkansas' 78-66 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday a true team victory.

The rejuvenated Razorbacks (12-4, 1-2 in the Southeastern Conference) got 19 points from Jonathon Modica, 17 from Darian Townes and 15 from Charles Thomas, 11 rebounds from Ronnie Brewer, several gee-whiz drives by Eric Ferguson, a first-half spark from Sean McCurdy and 18 solid second-half minutes from Dontell Jefferson.

That's not even mentioning 7-foot center Steven Hill, who had six rebounds and three blocked shots and left a big impression on Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.

"We'd get right to the basket and Hill would block the shot," Stallings said. "His defense was better than our offense."

The Commodores (11-3, 2-1 SEC) still managed to transform a 34-23 halftime deficit into a 55-55 tie with 7:07 remaining, but Townes answered with six of his seven-straight points to delight a season-high crowd of 18,723 in Bud Walton Arena.

"Our defense was tremendous, and we closed both halves very well," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath, who joined the postgame celebration and then scampered happily off the court.

Shan Foster scored 22 points for Vanderbilt and Derrick Byars managed 17, but Arkansas took advantage of its superior size inside and its deeper bench.

Townes, who steadied himself after four early turnovers, said, "We got their big men in foul trouble and attacked them."

Modica added, "We felt we had more athletic ability in the paint."

Ted Skuchas, Vandy's 6-11 center and its only regular taller than 6-7, fouled out in just 19 minutes of playing time.

"Arkansas played with more energy and they dominated the boards (39-20)," Stallings said. "We never really got control of the game."

By that, Stallings meant Vandy -- which used three defenses -- would have played more zone if it could have gotten ahead in the second half.

"Arkansas obviously historically has played better against a man than a zone," Stallings said. "But we went (more) man today because we couldn't really rebound well out of our zone."

Heath gave Brewer much of the credit for Arkansas' board edge.

"Ronnie was rebounding up above people and setting the tone," Heath said. "We're more of a gang-rebounding team, and today all of our starters had five or more rebounds."

Heath said he encouraged the Hogs to have fun in Saturday's game.

"I thought in the last couple of games we were a little tight," he said.

McCurdy, the freshman whippet, took care of that by accelerating the pace and making an end-to-end rush for a basket during his 11 first-half minutes.

Jefferson, with whom McCurdy shares time at point guard, said that was fine with him.

"It really doesn't matter," he said. "If someone is producing, then he deserves to play. I haven't lost confidence. My offense was off the last couple of games, but I've been playing the way I did in the second half all season."

Jefferson had all five of his rebounds and five of his six assists in the second half, while checking 5-11 Vandy guard Alex Gordon (11 points) and getting several deflections down the stretch.

"When Vanderbilt tied the score, we kept our composure and just kept playing hard," Jefferson said. "It felt great to help the team."

Jefferson made 3 of 4 free throws, matching Arkansas' .750 percentage at the line (24 of 32).

"We knew we could make free throws," said Modica, who made 8 of 11.

With Arkansas up just 61-57, Modica went 1-on-2 underneath, drew Byars' fourth foul and made a three-point play for a 64-57 lead with 4:31 to go.

Moments later, Modica raced down the floor for a layup and 66-57 advantage that just about settled the issue.

"We ran out of gas," Stallings said. "You have to play really well to win on the road in this league. We've been a pretty good road team, but today we weren't nearly as good as we wanted to be. Arkansas was better at every turn than we were."

Both Heath and Brewer commended Arkansas' character.

Heath acknowledged, "It would have been really hard to be 0-3 (in the SEC)."

The wild card in the game was Thomas, who went 5-of-5 from the field off the bench, including 2-of-2 on 3-pointers.

"This was his best SEC performance in his two years," Heath said.

The only 3-pointer Thomas has missed this season in four tries was his potential game-winner at the buzzer in a 69-67 loss to Mississippi State.

"I've never told Charles not to shoot those," Heath said. "Today he makes two in a row and then throws the ball away (instead of shooting another 3). He did the same thing in practice Friday and I chewed on him."

Heath said Hogs forward Vincent Hunter "tweaked" his ankle in the first half but could have played if needed in the second half.

Vanderbilt got a couple of layups on Princeton-type backdoor cuts, but Modica said, "After we took those away from them, we really threw them off."

By shooting 53.2 percent and limiting Vandy to 37.9 percent, Arkansas didn't need more than Brewer's nine points.

Now the Razorbacks must go back on the cold, hard SEC road Wednesday against suddenly viable Alabama (2-1 SEC), a winner at Kentucky on Saturday.

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