Staying With It

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The huddle around the Arkansas bench was buzzing Thursday, moments before the Razorbacks faced an overtime session against Southern Illinois. Considering the ups and downs of the previous 40 minutes of play, the energized and confident attitude was a bit perplexing for such a young collection of players.

The Hogs ignored the 24 turnovers they committed in the first round of the Old Spice Classic at The Milk House in Orlando, Fla. They breezed off their field-goal drought of six minutes, 55 seconds to close out regulation. They discarded their loss of a seven-point second-half lead en route to the 61-53 overtime victory.

They exhibited poise and character that's expected from teams like Southern Illinois, which returned all its starters from last season, not from squads without seniors like Arkansas.

"Going into overtime, we knew we could win the game," junior Darian Townes said. "We just knew it. We knew that if we believed in each other and played hard together, we'd win."

Arkansas proceeded to act out the sentiment shared by Townes and his teammates.

The Razorbacks held Southern Illinois without a point in overtime before a sparse but boisterous crowd of 1,050, advancing to a 9:30 a.m. contest today against Marist. With so much going wrong at times Thursday, Arkansas (3-0) found a way to claim a victory that should look more impressive as its season progresses.

"That is a tough, gritty basketball team that we faced, and I'm not sure we'll face that kind of pressure the rest of the year," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "(Southern Illinois) takes (pressure) to a another level."

Hounding man-to-man defense by Southern Illinois (2-1) immediately flustered the Razorbacks, whose first 12 possessions resulted in nine turnovers.

Wide-eyed, a little too hyped up, Arkansas newcomers Gary Ervin and Patrick Beverley failed to get the Hogs into their offense.

"Since this is a new thing for everybody, coming out to Disney World and this environment, I feel like everybody came out with the jitters," Beverley said.

But as the first half continued, the Razorbacks' guards settled down. Then, as Arkansas rallied from an early 10-2 deficit, it was the Razorbacks' defense that looked more galvanized.

As the Hogs alternated man-to-man and zone defenses, Arkansas ripped off a 13-0 first-half spurt and later led 38-31 on a Beverley 3-pointer with 12:24 left in the game. Southern Illinois fought back to lead 52-47 with under two minutes left, but Arkansas' defense turned in several excellent possessions and forced overtime.

In the extra session, Arkansas forced four turnovers, committed only one and made all six of its free-throw attempts. In fact, the Hogs nailed their last 14 free throws.

With clutch shooting, hectic defense, fiery intensity, it seems like the type of team Heath has envisioned putting together. The type that can overcome deficiencies and win despite scoring the fewest points in a victory since March 1, 2003. In years past, Heath's teams have lost games like this.

Townes swears those days are gone.

"We want to play in games like this," Townes said. "It's what basketball is all about. That's as good and exciting a game as you can play, and to be able to win it was a lot fun."

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