Intense defense spurs Razorbacks

ORLANDO, Fla. — Granted, the Marist Red Foxes' schedules the past two seasons haven't been loaded with major-conference schools.

But in Matt Brady's first two years as Marist's coach, the Red Foxes traveled to face Notre Dame, Seton Hall and St. John's and navigated the ever-improving Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Those experiences seemed to validate Brady's comments after Arkansas' 73-64 victory over Marist on Friday at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.

"I said to my team in preparing for this game that I think Arkansas is the best team we've played in my three years at Marist, and I think you see why," Brady said. "That's a tremendous defensive team. That's a longer, more athletic, rangier team than we normally see, and I think it caused some frustration on our part."

The Razorbacks didn't necessarily thrill the 1,125 fans inside The Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex with an aesthetic style of play. They advanced to the championship game against West Virginia at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, but not by flashing up-tempo offense like Arkansas coach Stan Heath would prefer.

The Hogs (4-0) did score 51 second-half points, but physical, intense defense was the main reason they won for the second straight day.

They denied passing lanes. They fought through screens. They blocked shots, skied for rebounds and simply out-muscled the Red Foxes.

Most importantly, the Razorbacks kept themselves in the game while their offense sputtered in the first half. Arkansas shot just 28.1 percent (9 of 32) in the first half and led just 22-19 after an opening 20 minutes in which the game's pace slowed to a near crawl.

Heath credited his defense for shutting down Marist, which sent out a starting lineup full of capable long-distance shooters.

"When you play teams such as this that puts almost five shooters out there, it makes it really difficult to guard them," Heath said. "When their five-man (7-foot center James Smith) can shoot those threes and now it takes Steven Hill away from the basket, that made it harder for our defense."

It hardly showed.

Other than from Smith, who nailed three 3-pointers, and point guard Jared Jordan, who finished with a game-high 21 points, Marist (3-2) struggled to find sources for points. Credit the Arkansas defense for that, starting with freshman Patrick Beverley.

Beverley, in just his fourth career game, continued his consistent contribution by limiting Marist's Will Whittington to 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Whittington entered Friday's game averaging 17.7 points in four games, but he had trouble shaking the smaller but quicker Beverley.

"I made sure I went over the top on every screen," Beverley said. "If I went under, I knew he'd shoot the jump shot. That was my assignment. To play hard and aggressive on him."

Every one of Beverley's teammates looked like they had drawn a similar assignment. Even on the possessions Marist scored, the Red Foxes' shots were highly contested — the Hogs got two blocks apiece from Beverley, Hill and Darian Townes.

Sure, the Razorbacks' offense came to life in the last 20 minutes Friday.

But, in reality, the extent of the Hogs' offensive production may not matter. It hasn't in four victories to start the season, in which Arkansas has allowed 52, 59, 53 and 64 points.

"Defense wins games, and that's what happened," Beverley said.

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