Statistically the Stan Heath era opened, refreshingly, with a rebound, a defensive board by Carl Baker. About five seconds later, Alonzo Lane scored two points at point-blank range, with a rim-rocking dunk.
Is one game – one play – too early to say, Arkansas didn't look back, nor will it?
It remains to be seen whether these Razorbacks live down to the expectations set for them this year. In their season opener, though, the Hogs did exactly what an Arkansas team is supposed to do to a team like Jackson State visits Bud Walton Arena: beat them silly.
The final score was 81 to 44, so the difference so far between the Nolan Richardson coaching regime and that of Heath is not the what, but the how. The Hogs pressed only occasionally, instead relying on a school record 77 rebounds, including 29 of those on the offensive end, to thrash the Tigers, a SWAC team out of Jackson, Miss.
The former school record of 75 rebounds came against Fort Chaffee in 1956.
Even Heath, who was an assistant on some truly fearsome rebounding teams at Michigan State, was awed by the total.
"I would never imagine we would have that many rebounds," Heath said, shaking his head. "We showed some signs in our last exhibition game, and for that to carry over into this game was huge, and really was the difference in this game. Without all those rebounds, those extra shots, holding them to one shot, I think you would have seen a different game."
He praised his team's effort in the first half, when the game was ostensibly decided. That was when Jackson State suffered what turned out to be a fatal six-minute scoring drought, allowing the Hogs to pry open a 23-4 lead from a 4-4 tie.
In that time, the Tigers' best opportunity to score coming when guard Reggie Taylor clanked on three free throws with 12:18 remaining in the first half. On the Tigers' next possession, he launched a trey that fell to Cliff Walker, who gathered Jackson State's first offensive board practically seated and with no fewer than four Hogs piling on to try their luck at dislodging it.
"We honestly thought we could rebound it better tonight," said Arkansas guard Blake Eddins, who was in on that particular pigpile. "We were working on really going to the glass, and putting a body on somebody and really going after the ball. And it showed tonight.
"Rebounding was a big part of Coach Richardson's system, but with Coach Heath, this is a cornerstone. A solid defense and rebounding are the two big deals with his style of basketball, as something we've got to do."
Heath said the young Hogs need also to take care of the ball. Arkansas committed 27 turnovers (on just eight Jackson State steals) and 29 personal fouls. And the Hogs shot just 27-of-48 (56.3 percent) from the free-throw line.
Overall, though, he was pleased that his young Razorbacks took the rebounding preaching to heart. Asked about his first real game in Bud Walton Arena, Heath said he thought he was emotionally prepared until he woke up around 4:30 a.m. Friday morning and couldn't get back to sleep. Turns out, he didn't have much to worry about.
The early diagnosis for this team is that there will be turnovers, there will be missed foul shots and there will be times when it seems the entire squad is playing volleyball under the hoop, unable to stick the darn thing down. Upside is, it seems either the dire preseason predictions have gone to their heads, or the Hogs have been schooled in the art of scrapping.
Among the better diving plays was Jonathon Modica laying out for a loose ball, catching himself push-up style with one arm while knocking the ball to a teammate with the other. Ferguson moved freely between red-hot and blue-collar, following a nifty up-and-under bucket by lunging at the ball and in the process being sat upon by a Jackson State guard. The play was ruled a jump ball, and Arkansas claimed possession.
"I love when our guys make hustle plays," Heath said. "To see Eric Ferguson diving on the floor, Blake Eddins, Jonathon Modica, that's what the coach is looking for, and I'm glad to see some guys responded."
Not that everything is going to come hard for these Hogs, for you can't spell "frazzled" without "razzle." For instance, late in the first half, Lane inflicted a two-handed block on a driving Tiger, and tipped the ball back to Ferguson. The freshman from Long Island went the length of the floor in a New York second, finishing with a one-on-two layup off the glass. Ferguson finished with a team-high four assists, a couple off of nifty no-look passes.
Arkansas fans had plenty to enjoy. With Jackson State seemingly settled at 9 points and little more than six minutes remaining in the first half, Del Coleman went to the line. The students chanted: "DOU-ble DI-gits!" Coleman came through with two misses. Two minutes later, with Walker at the line, the chant resumed. His two made shots were met with sarcastic applause.
Kendrick Davis led all scorers with 13 points on 3 of 13 shooting. Jonathon Modica chipped in 11 points and 13 rebounds. Alonzo Lane (11 points) and Michael Jones (12 points) also scored in double-digits for Arkansas.
The first half was a statistical slaughter. Arkansas' lead after 20 minutes was 41 points to 16. The rebound margin was similar, 42-11, owing as much to the Hogs' flair for rebounding as their holding Jackson State to 5-of-27 shooting and hitting only 13 of 38 shots themselves. The Tigers notched one assist and 12 turnovers in the half.
"They crashed the boards, plain and simple," said Jackson State's Walker, who shot 2 of 17 from the floor. "We didn't know what to expect because we didn't have film, but we definitely didn't expect this."
For the game, no Jackson State player finished with more than nine points, and only one had more than three rebounds. The Tigers shot 21 percent to the Hogs' 38.5 percent.
"They intimidated our guys a little bit," Jackson State coach Andy Stoglin said. "I've seen teams who were talented, with big, strong guys who could jump. I've seen a lot of players who better rebound, better talented and that kind of thing. But every one of them was in there. They had that grit and will around the boards, and I think that's what intimidated my guys."
Arkansas' next game is at Oral Roberts, Tuesday, Nov. 26 in Tulsa, Okla.
Mini Box Score
FG FGA Pts Reb
Henderson 2 8 5 1
Walker 2 17 7 5
Ross 2 5 4 2
Cavette 1 4 2 1
Joyce 3 9 9 1
Reg. Taylor 0 2 0 1
Hassell 0 1 2 3
Gilliom 1 4 4 0
Kennedy 0 4 3 2
Coleman 0 3 1 1
Wallace 1 2 3 1
Rash. Taylor 1 3 4 2
Baker 1 2 3 5
Gomez 3 6 8 7
Lane 3 6 11 7
Davis 3 13 13 4
Ferguson 3 7 9 6
Jones 3 7 12 5
Modica 4 9 11 13
Eddins 1 4 2 6
Sullivan 0 3 1 4
Mukubu 2 5 4 4
Satchell 1 1 2 6
Blackmon 1 2 5 1
Hudspeth 0 0 0 0
Hoops: Arkansas 81, Jackson State 44
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