Razorbacks End Hex, Rap Georgia Again

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It turned out that all Arkansas had to do to break its Southeastern Conference Tournament hex was return to the Gaylord Entertainment Center, site of its last league tourney win in 2001.

With a healthy share of the 13,926 fans in Thursday's second session, Arkansas defeated Georgia for the second time in five days, 80-67, to set up another 8:45 p.m. game tonight against Florida (24-6).

The Razorbacks had lost four straight SEC Tournament games since a 2001 win over LSU here.

But they played with purpose from the outset Thursday, taking a workmanlike 40-35 halftime lead and then grinding down the Bulldogs with superior guard play.

Jonathon Modica scored 20 points, Ronnie Brewer scored 18 with 5 assists and Eric Ferguson had 16 timely points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists for the Hogs, who also got 14 points and 6 rebounds from forward Charles Thomas.

"Ferguson was the key to that equation," said UA coach Stan Heath. "Brewer and Modica have been scoring consistently well for us, but Eric has really come on late in the season."

Arkansas (22-8) had beaten Georgia 74-57 on Sunday, and at one point in this game the Razorbacks led 75-57.

Mike Mercer, a 6-foot-4 freshman guard, led Georgia (15-15) with 16 points, while forward Younes Idrissi scored 14 and guard Channing Toney had 10.

Brewer, Modica and Ferguson were involved in several spectacular plays, including a slam follow by Brewer of a high-bounding 3-point try by Modica late in the first half, putting Arkansas up 40-33.

Brewer led Modica perfectly on a 50-foot pass that resulted in a layup and 59-43 Hogs lead with 13:33 to go.

Then with Arkansas up 72-54, Ferguson faced a 2-on-1 Georgia fast break and somehow stole the ball and redirected it to the Hogs' end of the court while lying on the floor.

"Eric is our little big man," Brewer said.

That got a small smile from Ferguson as he and Brewer waited to be interviewed on television after the game.

But Brewer reminded, "We've got three more games."

That meant Arkansas was aiming to play for the SEC Tournament championship at noon Sunday.

The Razorbacks outrebounded Georgia 38-36 -- which pleased Heath as much as anything.

"There are some tough guys on this team," Heath said. "They're definitely getting there as far as physical play. It's bothered me that we haven't had that persona, but our inside guys are maturing. Rebounding is a toughness trademark."

Vincent Hunter and Ferguson led Arkansas with seven rebounds each.

"Georgia is a very aggressive team, and we had to be careful not to get out of our rhythm," Heath said. "At halftime I encouraged our guys to have more patience if the transition (opportunity) wasn't there. But our defense really picked up in the second half and created some offense for us."

Modica credited his teammates with doing a good job of finding him when he made inside cuts.

"Me and Ronnie are all about team," Modica said. "It's not how many points we score, but about our team having success."

Heath said he felt he'd gotten a monkey off his back, and "the same for the team. There's a little pressure off us, but we still feel pressure going into our next game."

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