Four Minute Of Hell

FAYETTEVILLE -- Before a frenzied crowd of 18,448 and an ESPN audience, Arkansas came all the way back from a 42-24 second-half deficit to shock Alabama 65-63 in Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday night.

Ronnie Brewer, who had 12 points and 6 rebounds in 40 minutes, made a three-point play with 20 seconds left for the final margin. But just as in Saturday's UA win over Florida, there were many heroes.

With five players scoring in double figures, led by Darian Townes' 15 points, the Razorbacks made a strong statement for NCAA Tournament consideration.

Arkansas (18-8, 7-6 in the Southeastern Conference) also pulled within one game of Alabama (15-10, 8-5 SEC in the SEC West).

"It's awesome!" said Hogs coach Stan Heath. "We just never, never gave up. I think this is one of the best games I've ever been a part of in terms of coming back to win. It was a hard-nosed game and we finished it."

For the longest, it appeared that Alabama point guard Ronald Steele would break the Hogs' hearts as he had done in a 78-75 overtime win at Tuscaloosa on Jan. 18.

Steele, who scored 25 points that night, poured in 29 this time, including an opening four-point play and a second-half three-shot free throw sequence. Remarkably, Steele scored 18 of Alabama's 26 second-half points.

Arkansas even tried a box-and-one defense it hadn't practiced in the second half against Steele.

Steele's 3-pointer with 36.8 seconds left gave Alabama a 63-62 lead, but Brewer responded with his huge play down the stretch for the second straight game.

Brewer made a driving bank shot in traffic on which Alabama's Jermareo Davidson (10 points) fouled out with 20 seconds left. Brewer added the free throw for a three-point play and 65-63 lead.

Brewer wisely took Arkansas' sixth foul of the second half with 15 ticks left to slow the Tide down. Steele then drove the lane, but Steven Hill waited patiently for him and affected his missed shot.

Evan Brock rebounded for the Tide but also missed amid some contact, and Brewer squeezed the rebound as this time all 18,448 fans celebrated without going onto the court.

That pleased SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, who attended the game.

Arkansas won despite getting outrebounded 33-27.

"At one point, Alabama led us 10-1 in rebounds and that was driving me bananas," Heath said. "But we only had nine turnovers in the game (to Alabama's 17), and I was pleased with that."

Townes, who had three blocked shots to go with his 15 points, said, "I was kinda dreaming of a game like this, where I could hit some big shots. The big key was we wanted to go right at them."

He said Heath's early pep talk about rebounding motivated him.

"He was yelling, and I took what he said and got more aggressive," Townes said.

The Razorbacks, who trailed 37-24 at halftime, whittled a 42-24 Alabama lead early in the second half to 51-47 on Brewer's 17-foot jump shot with eight minutes remaining, but Hogs guard Eric Ferguson (10 points) then fouled Steele in the act of shooting a 3-pointer.

Steele made all three free throws -- just as he had late in Alabama's overtime win over Arkansas in Tuscaloosa -- to give Alabama a 54-47 lead which soon grew to 57-49.

Then the game really got good -- similar to Saturday's 85-81 UA win over Florida in overtime.

Jonathon Modica's 3-pointer with 5:08 left made it 57-52, and Modica soon added a steal, offensive rebound and free throw for 57-53.

After the final TV timeout at 3:25, Brewer stole the ball and took a return pass from Hill for a dunk to pull Arkansas within 57-55, as the crowd screamed.

The Hogs followed that by forcing Alabama into a 10-second count in backcourt. Heath jumped a couple of feet in the air when Arkansas was awarded the ball.

Then, 32 seconds into Arkansas' most patient possession of the game, Townes made a short jumper to tie the score at 57 with 2:13 to go.

The fun was just beginning.

Townes blocked a shot, Arkansas eventually got possession out of bounds and when Heath called timeout with 1:54 to go, the public address announcer alertly reminded fans not to storm the floor after the game. He could feel the momentum, too.

With 1:31 left, Charles Thomas tipped in his own miss for a 59-57 Hogs lead.

Jean Felix, a .280 3-point shooter in SEC play who was 4-of-8 behind the arc this night, buried a long one for a 60-59 Tide edge at 1:18.

Ferguson shrugged and hit a big shot for the second straight game -- a 3-pointer with 49.8 seconds left for a 62-60 Hogs lead.

After Steele's countering 3, Thomas rebounded a Ferguson miss and preserved Brewer's opportunity to be the hero again.

Tide coach Mark Gottfried said, "We played our hearts out. This is a tough loss. It hurts."

There was a certain poetic justice in the fact that Arkansas, after blowing a 13-point lead in the second half at Tuscaloosa, had the more pronounced comeback this time.

"We were sluggish at the start," Brewer said, "We showed a lot of heart and character to come back."

Thomas credited Arkansas' fans: "They support us great, no matter what."

Now the Hogs must play without their fans against Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday.

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