Arkansas 80, Mississippi State 70

Arkansas senior Jonathon Modica pours in 26 points and junior Ronnie Brewer adds 23 points and 9 rebounds as the Razorbacks turned Senior Night into a happy one with an 80-70 win over Mississippi State Wednesday before a season-high 19,833 fans at Bud Walton Arena.

University of Arkansas senior Jonathon  Modica - all but assuredly playing his final home game as his team appears headed for the Big Dance - hit the last shot he took before the halftime buzzer on Wednesday night.

The Smackover native whose nickname is Pookie was just gettting warmed up.

Modica proceeded to bury his next 5 3-pointers - banking in the last one in what ended up as his own 17-point run - while finishing with 26 points as the Razorbacks downed Mississippi State University 80-70 before a season-high 19,833 fans at Bud Walton Arena.

"Tonight was a remarkable experience," said Modica, who did tweak his achilles tendon after the run but came back to play. "I was real excited. There have been a lot of ups and downs in my career. I knew I was going to have to walk away one day. My time here was just temporary. I thank God for putting me at such a great institution."

Junior Ronnie Brewer added 23 points and 9 rebounds and sophomore Charles Thomas 12 points for Arkansas (20-8, 9-6) , who shot 50 percent from the floor and won its fourth straight game while also ending a five-game losing streak to Mississippi State (14-14, 4-11).

"I am proud that we were 15-1 at home this season, the third-best record in Bud Walton Arena history," Heath said. "I give a lot of credit to the fans, They make it a great place. It was an emotional night. I was a basket case early on. I really wanted this one for the upperclassman."

The winning streak - which has almost certainly locked Arkansas into an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in five years - started after a humbling 73-70 loss on Feb. 15 at Ole Miss, who hadn't won in a month before that game and hasn't won since.

"Ole Miss was the wake-up call. One thing that we might not have realized is how big the rivalry is for Ole Miss in that game. The big thing was the response from us after that game. Instead of thinking that it was over, we dug down and begin to play.

"We built a wall around us," Heath added. "The air was smelling too good. The focus after that game was to get it inside. We didn't get much inside much that game, mainly because outside guys didn't throw it in."

The win Wednesday night happened despite an equally red-hot shooting night from Mississippi State freshman Reginald Delk, who had a game-high 27 points while downing 7-of-9 from 3-point range.

Fellow freshman Jamont Gordon added 17 points and Charles Rhodes 14 points for the Bulldogs, who had split their last six league games after beating Razorbacks in the SEC opener but then losing the next seven.

Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury, whose team hit 12-of-22 3-pointers - said his squad played great and gave Arkansas its best shot.

"I don't know what else we could have done tonight," Stansbury said. "Everyone was here there battling and fighting. Even with Modica's career night we hung around. We didn't win this game, but I couldn't be prouder of what these kids did. We fought hard tonight. There were four freshman on the floor and they didn't back down."

The spree by Modica, one of three Arkansas seniors along with Eric  Ferguson and Dontell Jefferson (who both had five assists), helped blow open a tight game and helped the Razorbacks break a five-game losing streak to Mississippi State.

His bomb - off an assist from Sean McCurdy - right before half put the Razorbacks up 36-28 and regained control of the game after Arkansas' 13-point lead had been trimmed to five.

"Give credit to Sean for making a great shot fake. It was big. We had been up 13 and they had to cut it to 5. We had to take some of the momentum back and that play kicked the lead back out.

"That was a big shot by Modica for the team, but it might have been the trigger for him,' Heath added. "When he came back out in the second half, it was obvious that the basket looked awfully large."

Modica credited Arkansas assistant coach Orande Taliaferro with lighting his fire.

"He put me in an attack mode," Modica said.

Taliaferro said it was a serious conversation.

"I wanted to make sure he understood the importance of the situation," Taliaferro said. "I told him that Mississippi State had it going and they were going to continue to come after us hard. He responded and I am proud of him.

" I gave him a little fire and he jumped on the situation," Taliaferro added. "He knew he had to play hard to start that second half. That was an awesome stretch."

Indded Modica then just got ridiculously hot after intermission seconds after Brewer's old-fashioned 3-point play started the scoring in the second half.

Modica, who hit 6-of-9 from three-point range, lit it up from deep three times as the Razorbacks were scoring the first 12 points of the second half to surge ahead 48-28 with 17:28 left in the game.

By the time he hit his fifth one - one that banked in - the Razorbacks had taken a 54-35 lead with 14:44 remaining in the game.

"My teammates got me the ball in great position to shoot it and I just pulled," Modica said. "it was looking as big as an ocean."

Delk - whose twin brother Richard also starts for MSU - refused to let his team fold up shot, knocking down four 3-pointers during a three-minute stretch in which Mississippi State outscored Arkansas 15-3.

His last one of the quartet capped that surge and cut Arkansas' lead to 64-56 with 7:21 left in the game and MSU was still within 8 with just over four minutes left.

"I think we found the wrong Delk for awhile," Heath said. "For some reason we couldn't find the right twin."

But Arkansas - as has been the case in its winning streak - then finished the game with a flourish by scoring 10 of the next 13 points and going up 80-65 when Thomas scored with 1:01 left.

Soon after that Heath took his three seniors out of the game to roaring ovations.

"Jonathon Modica had an outstanding four years," Heath said. "He is playing the best he he has ever played this year and playing well all around with shooting, defense and rebounding.

"Eric Ferguson has had heart and perserverance all four years,' Heath added. "He went through the trenches with us. You've got to give Dontell Jefferson credit. He plays with emotion and communicates well with his team. He plays to win and is a strong leader and has a strong impact on this team."

Arkansas will try to keep its momentum going when it travels to Georgia (15-13, 5-10) on Sunday for a 1 p.m. game.

Florida downed Georgia 77-66 on Wednesday night.

"We need to keep going and take care of business," Thomas said. "We have gotten closer. It's us against the world right now and that is the mindset we are going to take the rest of the way."

With Alabama's 71-61 win over Auburn on Wednesday night, the Crimson Tide grabbed the West second seed and a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament.

The Razorbacks know they will play a week from Thursday at around 8:45 p.m. in the opening round against either Georgia or South Carolina, who currently would be the foe.

South Carolina travels to Auburn for its final regular season game on Saturday and then Georgia hosts Arkansas a day later.

"We are still going to play like we are underdogs," Modica said. "We have got to play that way every time. We have got momentum going in our direction and we don't want to throw that away."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories