Intensity Fuels First Road Win

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Vacant seats outnumbered occupied ones as Gary Ervin, blood dripping from his chin, squeezed the basketball and screamed Saturday in Coleman Coliseum.

Just after the final buzzer to Arkansas' 63-57 victory over No. 12 Alabama blared, Patrick Beverley turned to Ervin and hugged him.

They shared a cathartic moment, releasing a season's worth of pent up emotion after nearly blowing a 25-point second-half lead.

"All I was thinking was, ‘It's about time,'" Beverley said. "We've just been tired of losing away games. It was time for us to step up and play like men, and that's what we did."

The victory before a sellout crowd of 15,316 didn't just halt Arkansas' five-game losing streak on the road. It snapped Alabama's run of 17 straight home victories. It gave the Razorbacks their first sweep of the Crimson Tide since 2001, vaulting the Razorbacks into a tie for first place in the West Division of the Southeastern Conference with Auburn.

In improving to 3-4 in the SEC, Arkansas (14-7) used a winning formula that likely had Alabama (15-5, 2-4) experiencing some deja vu. The Razorbacks darted out to a 15-2 lead and suffocated Alabama with feverish pressure defense, just like in their 27-point home victory over Alabama 21 days earlier.

"We were a totally different team than what we saw on the road before," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "The intensity on the defensive end is what really triggered things."

Alabama's offensive difficulties started immediately, aided by Arkansas' harassing man-to-man defense.

The Crimson Tide missed 13 of its 14 3-point attempts. The Hogs held Alabama to a 25.9 field-goal percentage in the first half, frequently getting a hand in the faces of Alabama's shooters. And when left unguarded, Alabama helped out by missing several close shots.

Meanwhile, Ervin and Beverley took turns pestering Ronald Steele, Alabama's preseason All-America guard who finished with just one point.

"You have periods where you get into a rhythm and everything works well and then there's other times when you're struggling for whatever reason," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "That's where we were, struggling."

Arkansas normally alternates between man-to-man and several zone defenses. But Heath didn't want to mess with Arkansas' defensive momentum.

"I just thought it was working," Heath said. "We just felt like we were doing a good job guarding, getting rebounds and taking away some of the things they do."

Led by Steven Hill, and his career-high 16 rebounds, Arkansas tamed the physical ability of Alabama's Richard Hendrix and Jermareo Davidson in the first half.

Both of the Crimson Tide's post players rank among the SEC's rebounding leaders. The Hogs were coming off road defeats in which Ole Miss' Dwayne Curtis grabbed nine offensive rebounds and South Carolina's Brandon Wallace snagged 10.

Alabama posted just three offensive rebounds in the opening 20 minutes.

"We all had to come together and show a lot of fight," Hill said. "We had a meeting (Friday) night, and we knew we had to lay everything out on the line."

The Razorbacks did just that, exhibiting urgency on both ends of floor. While they didn't, by any means, experience a stellar offensive game, the Hogs' game-opening spurt earned them a quick lead they would never relinquish.

Following four scoreless possessions, Hill knocked down two free throws, Sonny Weems drained a 16-footer and Vincent Hunter converted a layup after nabbing an inbounds pass. Ervin's steal and acrobatic layup, moments after Weems floated in a 10-footer, put Arkansas up 10-0 five minutes into the contest.

Almost two hours later, Ervin stood with the ball, more than half of the Coleman Coliseum crowd having already headed to the parking lot.

He had his jersey lifted above his nose, shielding a cut on his chin as the first road victory for an SEC West team this season concluded.

"That's what it takes when you're trying to get a win on the road, you might get a little blood on your shirt," Heath said. "I couldn't be prouder of a group of guys, and the way they just bounced back when it looked like we were dead."

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