Modica's Shooting Helps Arkansas To Big Win

FAYETTEVILLE -- An emotional Jonathon Modica dialed up six straight 3-point shots during a farewell 26-point Senior Night performance as Arkansas held off scrappy Mississippi State 80-70 in Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday.

A crowd of 19,833 -- the largest home gathering of the season by more than 1,100 -- howled as Modica made his first 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left in the first half for a 36-28 lead, then poured in five more in the first 5:17 of the second half.

"Modica was unconscious," said Hogs coach Stan Heath.

Arkansas (20-8, 9-6 in the Southeastern Conference) surely punched its NCAA Tournament ticket, if there was any doubt. Mississippi State fell to 14-15, 4-11.

The Hogs' 15-1 ledger in Walton Arena this season was the third best.

Modica, who even banked in one of his 3s, said, "My teammates were finding me in transition, and I didn't care who was in my face."

He didn't know, either.

"I think it was one of the Delk boys (Reginald or Richard)," Modica said. "They're twins. I can't tell them apart."

Reginald Delk is the one who matched Modica shot for shot, finishing with a career-high 27 points including 7 of 9 3-pointers. Modica hit 6 of 9 3s.

"We tried to find Reginald," Heath said. "But we kept running to the wrong twin. I told our guys to enjoy the day and I'd chew them out tomorrow."

The Razorbacks' 20th win didn't seem in doubt when they led 61-41 with 11:26 to go, but the freshmen-laden Bulldogs clawed back within 70-62 with 4:01 left.

"I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a group of guys," said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. "We had two guys home sick (Jamall Edmondson and Vernon Goodridge), and then Dietric Slater hurt his knee after three minutes."

Hogs junior guard Ronnie Brewer yielded his starting job for the first time this season so that Dontell Jefferson could start alongside fellow seniors Modica and Eric Ferguson. But Brewer still managed to get 23 points and 9 rebounds.

After Vincent Hunter had pulled Arkansas into a 13-13 tie with a dunk, Brewer followed with a 3-pointer and a remarkable fast-break assist to Modica for an 18-13 UA edge.

"We can't focus on our ranking or the NCAA Tournament right now," Brewer said. "If we win out and win the SEC Tournament, you never know what (NCAA) seed we might get."

Charles Thomas supplied some early offense, as he often does, in a 12-point, 5-rebound game for Arkansas.

Ferguson settled for 7 points, 5 assists, while Jefferson was quietly efficient with 5 assists, 1 steal and 1 blocked shot in just 10 minutes.

Jamont Gordon scored 17 points for the Bulldogs, but needed 19 shots to do it. Charles Rhodes added 14 points for MSU, while 7-2 Wesley Morgan (eight rebounds) helped the Bulldogs outrebound Arkansas 35-34.

"A big difference was Arkansas shot 24 free throws and we shot five," Stansbury said. "But that's the way it is on the road."

Officials stepped in strongly after two sets of double technical fouls during the first half, and summoned both coaches to midcourt for a conference.

"It was a one-sided conversation," Heath said. "The official made it clear to us what he saw."

Brewer played peacemaker after that, when he wasn't dunking the Bulldogs like so many doughnuts.

"The technicals were about retaliation," Brewer said. "We're all men out there and no one was backing down."

Stansbury not only praised Modica's shooting but said, "He's the whole difference in Arkansas' team now, with his consistency and experience."

Heath thanked his seniors for their perseverance through hard times.

As for Modica's shooting, Heath said, "The basket was an ocean. Everything he was throwing up there was going in."

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