ATHENS, Ga. - This road thing's getting a lot easier and any worries about getting to the NCAA Tournament are getting eased because of it.
Ronnie Brewer had 25 points and Charles Thomas doubled his pleasure with 15 points and a career-high 15 rebounds as visiting Arkansas won its fifth straight game by downing Georgia 74-57 Sunday afternoon before a crowd much smaller than the announced number of 6,170 fans at Stegeman Coliseum.
"I am really excited and happy about the way our team played today," Arkansas fourth-year head coach Stan Heath said. "We did a lot of things well. I think the most important thing is we went up against a team that is really good at turnovers and steals and we only had six turnovers for the game."
The real crowd was around 2,000, but the dismal atmosphere didn't keep the Razorbacks (21-8, 10-6) - who tied Alabama for second in the SEC Western Division with win - from grabbing a second straight road win and their third of the season.
"The best thing I liked about today was that we got a lead and we bent a little bit and they cut it to about 12," Heath said, "but we put the pressure on again and really attack the press again and got some easy baskets and just kept our lead."
Jonathon Modica added 19 and Eric Ferguson 11 for Arkansas, who will turn right around and play Georgia (15-14, 5-11) in the SEC Tournament Thursday night at around 8:45 in Nashville.
Brewer's 25 points regained him the SEC individual scoring lead over LSU's Glen Davis heading into the league Tournament.
"We have great momentum going into the tournament right now," Heath said. "Our preparation, we already know what we need to do, we can just watch our film from this game and find out some things we need to do better. I think Georgia is a better team than maybe what we saw today. I think their guards are going to step up."
It's clear that Heath is in no mood to go one-and-done at the SEC Tournament for a fourth straight year.
"We are trying to do everything we can to make sure we are not a one-and-done team," Heath said. "We want to get that first win and we want to go in there and continue to play great basketball. We are going to try and win it. We really think we have a legitimate chance to win it.
"We are playing good basketball right now, but the most important one is that first one," Heath added. "I know how many fans travel with us and that is always a heartbreaker for me when we are staying there one day and all those fans have rooms and money they've spent and they've got to go home quick. I don't want that to happen."
Thomas' 15 rebounds was the most by a Razorback since Dionisio Gomez grabbed 17 against Georgia back in 2003.
"I thought Charles Thomas was just a warrior," Heath said. He was all over the place offensively and defensively."
Billy Humphrey had 10 points and was the only double-digit scorer for the Bulldogs, who suffered their worst home loss of the season and have now lost three straight.
"We never were as aggressive as I had hoped today," Georgia head coach Dennis Felton said. "We were just not playing with as much energy as I would have liked. For whatever reason, we did not have an over-the-top attitude you had to have to beat them today."
The victory moved Arkansas to 3-5 on the road this season, a win total that matches what the Razorbacks had in Heath's first three seasons at the school and also added to their growing NCAA Tournament resume.
"We really haven't had much consistency away from home this year," Heath said. "We wanted to establish that we can win on the road and we did that today."
The Razorbacks actually had a solid road contingent backing them on Sunday.
"I was really surprised how many Hog fans we had that traveled or lived in the Georgia area," Heath said. "We had a nice turnout, they were encouraging for us and we are starting to pick up that momentum. I think the stronger your program gets that is what you'll see and what we want to happen. We are expecting a great turnout of Hog fans in Nashville."
The Razorbacks, who led by as many as 12 in the first half and by 8 at intermission, roared out of the locker room focused for the start of the second half and scored 11 of the half's 13 points.
That included 10 unanswered ones, a spree capped by Brewer's slam and Thomas' free throw and one that turned a 40-32 lead into a 50-32 one with 16:05 left in the game.
That lead grew to 56-37 on Brewer's slam at the 12:57 mark before Georgia began to show some fight.
All that happened despite Arkansas getting minimal production from big guys Darian Townes, Steven Hil and Vincent Hunter, who combined for just 4 points and 8 rebounds.
"I didn't think we did a good job attacking their 1-3-1 and I thought we had to do a better job of getting our big guys involved. If there is one thing that is concerning me it's that we are not getting enough out of Darian and Steven."
A 9-0 run by the Bulldogs got them within 10 on Mike Mercer's lay-up with 10:51 remaining, but two straight 3-pointers by Eric Ferguson stemmed the tide and when Brewer scored again it was 64-48 and Arkansas cruised on in.
Hunter's slam pushed the lead to 74-54 with 1:15 left before Georgia fan favorite and senior walk on Justin McCauley hit a 3-pointer to cap the scoring.
"I thought our first half was solid," Heath said. "It is important to go in at the half with a lead on such a young team. We played well in the second half and I thought we really finished strong. We played solid defense throughout the game."
Arkansas fell down 7-2, but wiped out that deficit quickly and actually went on a 12-0 run at that point.
The spree opened with two baskets by Thomas sandwiched around one by Brewer, who then got free for consecutive slams.
Ferguson picked up a steal and assisted on the last one and then Brewer returned the favor with and feeding the senior guard for a lay-up that surged the Razorbacks ahead 16-7.
They pushed that lead to 10 three times before intermission and took their largest lead of the opening 20 minutes on Brewer's 3-pointer and two free throws the next time down the court to push Arkansas ahead 38-26 with 1:52 remaining.
Georgia's Gaines did score the last four points of the half to cut their home team's gap to 38-30 entering intermission.
The Razorbacks then landed the haymaker to start the second half and left Felton wondering what happened.
"This damages our postseason (NIT) hopes," Felton said. "I thought we would helps ourselves out tremendously with a win. We certainly did not look like a postseason team today."
But Arkansas sure did as the Razorbacks continue to finish the season strong.
"We stayed very focused," Heath said. "We were energetic, sometimes almost to a fault where we had a couple of Ts (technicals). But I would rather have that than sleepwalking and trying to pick your spots. We knew we had to play 40 minutes and I thought we were pretty complete for the most part this game."
Arkansas 74, Georgia 57
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