Opening D-Light

FAYETTEVILLE -- A few of Arkansas' basketball players sat in the locker room Tuesday night, formulating an impromptu contest. No money would change hands at the end of the Razorbacks' exhibition opener against Xavier-New Orleans. In reality, junior Darian Townes said, it wasn't even an official gentleman's bet.

But when the Razorbacks stepped onto the Bud Walton Arena court, it appeared like something was riding on their pregame conversation.

"Our motivation was constantly to see how many deflections and blocks and steals we could get," junior Darian Townes said. "We were just getting after it, and seeing how many turnovers we could get."

In the first half, Arkansas forced 16 miscues and scored 20 of its 39 points off of them. The Razorbacks went on to cruise to an 82-49 victory behind 15 points from junior Charles Thomas and 11 points each from Townes and sophomore Sean McCurdy.

As expected for an exhibition game, the Razorbacks' offense struggled at times. Arkansas even shot just 1 for 13 from three-point range, an output that would "come back to hurt us," Heath said, if repeated in a regular-season game.

The Hogs managed to string together first-half runs of 11-0 and 9-2 and second-half spurts of 16-4 and 12-0.

But really, Tuesday night was mostly about defense, the first 20 minutes especially as the Razorbacks made a bunch of athletic plays.

Freshman Patrick Beverley blocked a 3-pointer two minutes into the game. Thomas and junior Steven Hill soon followed with blocks of their own.

Junior Gary Ervin swiped the ball from a Xavier guard. Freshman Stefan Welsh stuck his hand into a passing lane and tipped a pass to Ervin. Townes swatted away two shots. Junior Vincent Hunter flew into the air for a block.

Then, the defining moment for the Bud Walton Arena crowd of 5,839 ensued. On a Xavier inbounds play, Arkansas set up in a zone trap. With every pass, two different Razorbacks converged on the ball. With every pass, the crowd got louder. And finally, after the fourth pass, Ervin knocked the ball out of bounds. The crowd rewarded the frantic sequence with a 10-second ovation.

"Our defense's intensity, as a team, was right where it needs to be in the first half," Ervin said. "I needed to be a little better, and I got better in the second half. But the defense was great."

And that wasn't the end of the pressure defense in the first half. Townes recorded two more blocks. Freshman Michael Washington was called for goaltending, soaring seemingly out of nowhere to fling the ball off the backboard. He took a charge two possessions later.

Finishing its first-half defensive dominance, Arkansas forced a five-second violation as Xavier inbounded the ball under its own basket.

Afterward, Heath seemed pleased with his team's intensity on defense, frustrated only with a few lapses by his guards. The Hogs finished with 13 steals and 12 blocks, forced 26 turnovers and limited the Gold Rush to 18 percent shooting (4 of 22) in the first half.

Ervin, speaking as the leader his Arkansas teammates see him as, stated that it was far too early to get too content.

"You know, It was a good place to start," Ervin said. "But we've got to pressure a lot more than that once the season starts."

Maybe he and his teammates can bet on that.

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