Ervin's Overtime Outburst Helps Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE — Gary Ervin could get only six words out of his mouth.

Sonny Weems interrupted Ervin as he tried to address his crucial, and unexpected, seven overtime points that fueled Arkansas' 71-67 victory over Alabama on Sunday. Ervin's gutsy 21-footer turned a 64-62 deficit into a one-point lead, an advantage the Hogs never relinquished, and reporters standing two-deep wanted an answer.

How could Ervin take such an important shot, having missed all but two of his 11 attempts up to that point?

Weems wouldn't let Arkansas' senior point guard respond, not right away anyway. He knows Ervin doesn't lack for confidence, knows his early shooting struggles wouldn't deter him from letting the Razorbacks' most consequential shot fly out of his right hand.

"He hit the shot that counted, didn't he?" Weems blurted on his way to the Arkansas locker room.

Ervin certainly did, helping the Razorbacks improve to 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since Nolan Richardson's final season in Fayetteville (2001-02). But Ervin's late-game heroics didn't overshadow the other reasons why a season-high crowd of 19,153 in Bud Walton Arena went home celebrating after a collective heart attack.

As they did twice last season, the Razorbacks (13-3) jumped Alabama (11-6, 0-2) in the opening minutes. Weems scored eight of Arkansas' first 13 points, and the Hogs used a 7-0 spurt to go up 20-8.

The Crimson Tide fought back, though, never letting Arkansas lead by more.

Even as Darian Townes downed his first seven shots, even as Arkansas held the Crimson Tide to 32.1 percent shooting in the first half, Alabama wouldn't relent. Arkansas twice took leads of 12 points in the second half, only to see Richard Hendrix, Mykal Riley and Demetrius Jemison fuel an Alabama comeback. The Crimson Tide forced overtime when Riley drained a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left and Jemison blocked Charles Thomas as time expired.

Weems blamed a few "bone-headed plays," likely regarding shot selection, that kept Arkansas from extending its leads. Alabama coach Mark Gottfried cited two intangibles, moments after stating how proud he was of his team.

"It was heart and toughness," Gottfried said.

Arkansas showed plenty, as well. The Hogs could've sulked as they plumped down in their chairs to get ready for overtime. They could've folded, as they had done more often than not in close games the past few seasons.

They didn't.

"We were calm," Weems said. "We didn't panic. We knew we had to keep our composure, and we knew we had to go to the next play."

Two free throws and a 16-footer as the shot clock expired from Riley, a Pine Bluff native, put Alabama up for the first time at 64-62. And rather than panic, Ervin dribbled around a pick and found himself a couple of feet behind the 3-point line — all alone.

So he rose up and shot, with the conviction of a player who had the hot hand.

"I definitely felt I was having a bad shooting night," said Ervin, who finished with 12 points. "I was just staying confident. I was really looking for our big guy to step out. When he didn't, I had a wide-open shot.

"And I'm confident enough to take it."

The next time down court, after a Hendrix miss, Ervin caught a perfect bounce-pass from Weems, drew contact, nailed the layup and converted the free throw. The 24-year-old veteran later hit 1 of 2 free throws to give him seven for overtime.

First-year Razorback coach John Pelphrey complimented Ervin for his moxie but wasn't in the mood to start calling him "Mr. Big Shot or anything." He said he felt fortunate to win and knew, like Ervin, that this victory hinged on more than one timely swish.

"We got the stops on defense," Ervin said. "That's what really won the game at the end."

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