Modica Scores 37; Hogs Down Gamecocks

FAYETTEVILLE -- Before Arkansas' 73-59 win over South Carolina on Saturday, Hogs senior guard Jonathon Modica told a fraternity brother, "I think I'm going to have a 30-point game."

Modica outdid even his own lofty prediction, scoring a career-high 37 points -- the most by a Razorback since Al Dillard had 39 for the 1993-94 national champions.

Arkansas coach Stan Heath underestimated Modica, too -- he said, "I thought he'd get about 20 today."

The Razorbacks (15-6, 4-4 in the Southeastern Conference) needed Modica's outburst, because they saw a 43-21 lead early in the second half melt as usual to 65-55 with 2:55 left.

Many of the 18,286 fans in Bud Walton Arena had already left by then, perhaps because they had seen this movie before.

But Modica restored order by earning a three-point play on a "curl cut" for a 68-55 lead with 2:32 to go, scoring on an unselfish fast-break feed from Eric  Ferguson at 2:14 and then popping his sixth 3-pointer for 73-55 with 1:50 left.

Modica tried one more 3-pointer and missed, but on Arkansas' final possession, with fans urging him to go for 40 points, Modica simply dribbled the clock out with Heath's approval.

"The whole arena was screaming, 'Shoot it!' but I wasn't going to be a bad sport like that," Modica said.

South Carolina coach Dave Odom, whose Gamecocks (11-10, 2-6 SEC) might now get to defend their NIT title this season, said, "We certainly had no answer for Modica. His 20 points in the first half was almost unheard of. He certainly has had a great career here at Arkansas."

Heath raised eyebrows by giving both Ferguson and forward Vincent Hunter their first starts of the season, but South Carolina's early 6-2 lead on two Dwayne Day treys served mostly to spur on UA sixth man Charles Thomas.

"Coach was going to start me, but I told him I'd prefer to come off the bench," said Thomas, who had 13 points and took two charges. "Michael Jordan said it's not how you start but how you finish. I think off the bench I have a better feel for the flow of the game."

Thomas certainly convinced Odom.

"You see he's averaging 8.8 points and you say, 'He's a better player than that,'" Odom said. "You have to respect his inside and outside game, and he's their only post player like that."

South Carolina only had to contend with 6-10 Hogs forward Darian Townes for 11 minutes, mostly because Townes gave up an offensive rebound on a missed free throw in the first half.

"I'm tired of us getting pushed under the basket, and a lot of times he's the culprit," Heath said. "That's all I want him to understand -- 'you can rebound with the best of them' -- and in fairness, he had six rebounds in 11 minutes today."

The Gamecocks were hampered by 6-8 forward Renaldo Balkman's sprained left knee -- he played just six minutes -- and got outrebounded 32-28.

Tarence Kinsey scored 14 points for South Carolina, but committed five turnovers, as did Gamecocks point guard Tre' Kelley. Much to Odom's consternation, his team had 15 turnovers to Arkansas' mere 11.

"When Kelley wasn't handling the ball well early, I knew we were in trouble," Odom said. "We have a small margin for error. Maybe the road got to us today. We were just out of sync."

Odom, though, gave Arkansas full credit.

"They're certainly a postseason team," he said. "There may be a more talented team in the league, but I'm not sure. They've got a promising next eight games, I think."

Modica, whose previous high was 33 points, benefited from the unselfish play of Ronnie Brewer (10 points, 7 assists) and other Razorbacks, who kept feeding him.

"As a team, we tried to go to (Modica)," Brewer said. "We've got to continue to do that and build off this momentum."

Heath credited Hogs assistant Dan Hipsher for teaching the motion offense in which Modica is starting to thrive.

"He ought to kiss coach Hipsher for that motion stuff," Heath said. "He was cutting and moving. We jumped on his back."

Rocky Trice drove well and scored 10 points off the bench to help South Carolina with its steady second-half comeback, but Brewer said, "Our seniors took over down the stretch."

When the Gamecocks bothered Arkansas with a press in the final minutes, Heath even went to a four-guard lineup.

Hogs center Steven Hill had a quiet game with four rebounds and three blocked shots, but he did establish a defensive presence early.

Heath named Modica, Brewer and Hill as sure starters against LSU on Wednesday night in Baton Rouge, La., but said he didn't know after that.

The Hogs need to keep pace with second-place Alabama in the SEC West, in light of the Tide's win over LSU on Saturday.

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