Facing a week that will begin on the road and go a long way in establishing its worthiness as an NCAA Tournament caliber team, the University of Arkansas first took care of some business at home on Saturday night.
Ronnie Brewer had 19 points and 6 assists and Jonathon Modica added 17 - with the pair combining for 28 of those after halftime - as the Razorbacks completed a regular season sweep of Auburn with a 84-64 win over the Tigers before 17,679 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"I thought we came out kind of flat, but certainly picked it up in the second half and brought the energy we needed," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "I was very pleased with our defense and we shot nearly 57 percent from the field and that's not bad. It was a good win and one we had to have."
Starting forward Charles Thomas added 13 in a win that got the Razorbacks (16-7, 5-5) back to .500 in SEC action with a road trip to Ole Miss (13-10, 3-7) looming on Wednesday and then a home game with No. 6 Florida (21-3, 7-3) on Saturday.
Arkansas shot 56.9 percent from fhe field - it's best peformance of the season - and 74 percent from the free throw line and it was the Razorbacks' largest margin of victory since a 77-35 pummeling of Southern Mississippi back on Nov. 30.
"We took care of business, played together as a team and I can see a lot of good things left for us this season," Heath said. "The first thing is to go to Ole Miss and get a win and just keep the momentum going."
Korvotney Barber had 14 points to lead Auburn (10-11, 2-8) while Ronny LeMelle chipped in 13 and Rasheem Barrett and Josh Dollard 11 each for the Tigers, who were coming off a 58-50 home win over Ole Miss.
The Tigers played Saturday night without head coach Jeff Lebo, who was bothered by the stomach flu and whose duties were taken over by assistant John Cooper.
"Arkansas played well in the second half," Cooper said. "We really struggled against their length and size tonight. They made shots against our two-one zone defense. Ronnie (Brewer) got it going. What was really impressive was he had six assists to no turnovers."
Modica, who had 57 points in his past two games, and Brewer - the SEC's leading scorer at over 18 a game - had just eight points at halftime and the Razorbacks led just 36-31.
"Ronnie got us out on the break, got us going and that gave us more energy," Modica said. "We were disappointed at halftime. We were kind of lax. We didn't bring any intensity or energy. In the second half, we brought it a little better. It wasn't pretty, but it's a win and that's what we need right now."
"I think you saw that Ronnie and myself tried to provide leadership in the second half," Modica said. "I wasn't hitting the open shot so I had to take it to the basket."
Brewer said he knew he and Modica had to provide the spark together.
"I think we have done it all season long together," Brewer said. "The last game our scoring was almost the same so this is nothing different. It is important for me and Modica to score because we get matchup problems."
Ferguson's mad dash lay-up with less than five seconds left before intermission was good enough to give Arkansas the 36-31 lead going into the break.
"At halftime we (the Razorbacks) weren't playing basketball at all," Modica said. "At halftime it was just a matter of turning it up."
Heath had inserted Thomas, who likes to come off the bench, into the starting lineup and he and senior Eric Ferguson led the way with 7 points each at intermission.
"I get a better feel to the game off the bench, but I'll do whatever Coach wants me to do," Thomas said. "If Coach needs me to start, I won't tell him no. I just did the usual, which is play hard and help my team."
The lead grew to eight early in the second half 43-35 on Modica's 3-pointer with 17:01 left in the game, but the Razorbacks had trouble shaking off the Tigers for a little bit.
Auburn got it to within 46-42 when Barrett knocked down a 3-pointer at the 14:23 mark.
But Brewer's steal and dunk and Ferguson's drive put Arkansas back into control with a 50-42 advantage and forced an timeout from the visitors with 13:12 left.
Brewer's back-to-back deep 3-pointers and Thomas' tough rebound basket inside pushed the Razorbacks out front 56-44 with 10:15 left in the game and started a 15-5 run that iced the game.
"I moved closer to the basket in the second half and also thought I did much better defensively," Brewer said.
That lead grew to as much as 18 twice after that, the second time on a fastbreak where freshman point guard Sean McCurdy fed Brewer and he got the ball to Modica for a lay-up that put Arkansas ahead 71-53 with 4:07 remaining.
Thomas' slam off a feed from Steven Hill and Modica's two free throws gave Arkansas its largest lead of the game at 75-54 soon afterwards.
The fans gave McCurdy - who had a missed a crucial pair of free throws late at LSU - some encouragement before he swished a pair late in the Auburn game.
He capped off the scoring with a lauyp with less than 10 seconds left in the game.
Arkansas will now head to Oxford to face an Ole Miss squad ut downed 71-58 win over the Rebels back on Jan. 25.
That loss started Ole Miss - who had open the conference season 3-0 - on its current seven-game losing streak while the Razorbacks have won 5 of 8 since an 0-2 start to league play.
"We realized after the LSU game that we still have a chance to get in the NCAA Tournament," Modica said. "That game was just a minor setback and we had to put it behind us. We've done so and now it's all about the future."
Arkansas 84, Auburn 64
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