FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – From the opening tip, Arkansas’ defense was in control as the Razorbacks cruised past Xavier-New Orleans, 82-49, in the first exhibition game of the season Tuesday night at Bud Walton Arena.
The Razorback defense was dominant as the Hogs suffocated the Gold Rush by forcing 26 turnovers, including 16 in the first half, and holding Xavier to just a 25.5 percent shooting. UA dominated points off turnovers, outscoring Xavier, 38-13.
Displaying a balanced offensive attack, every Razorback who entered the game scored, and each Hog had at least two rebounds. No Hog played more than 24 minutes and all 11 dressed players saw at least 10 minutes of action.
The Razorback big men controlled the paint against the smaller Gold Rush. Seven-foot Steven Hill, 6-10 Darian Townes, 6-10 Vincent Hunter, 6-9 Cyrus McGowan, 6-8 Charles Thomas and even 6-1 guard Patrick Beverley combined to block 12 shots. Hill, the Southeastern Conference’s leading returning shot-blocker, swatted four shots while Townes, seventh in the conference a year ago, blocked three.
The Hogs out-rebounded Xavier, 41-35, and put back 25 second-chance points. The Razorbacks were 33-of-68 (48.5%) from the field and 15-21 (71.4%) from the free-throw line.
Three Hogs scored in double figures. Thomas, a junior and UA’s leading returning scorer, led the Hogs with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting while adding five rebounds. The Jackson, Miss., native also blocked two shots. Sophomore guard Sean McCurdy chipped in 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, grabbed three boards, dished out three assists and also had two steals. Townes added 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting, three rebounds and three blocks in just 15 minutes
Hill, a junior, posted nine points, five rebounds and four blocks in just 22 minutes. Hunter dropped in seven points on 3-of-3 shooting, nabbed a team-high six rebounds and a team-high three steals.
Newcomers Sonny Weems, Patrick Beverley, Gary Ervin, Stefan Welsh and Michael Washington each made solid debuts. Weems, a 6-6 junior college transfer, scored seven points, grabbed three rebounds, had two assists and a steal in 23 minutes. Beverley, a freshman from Chicago, Ill., filled up the stat sheet with six points, three rebounds, one assist, two steals and one blocked shot.
Ervin, a 6-0 point guard, had six points and two rebounds. Ervin, a junior who sat out last season after transferring from Mississippi State, also dished out four assists and swiped two steals in 24 minutes.
Welsh contributed four points, two rebounds and two steals while Washington had two points, three rebounds and an assist in just 10 minutes.
The Gold Rush, who had their 2006 season cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina, were playing in their first game since 2005.
Xavier pulled within three, 10-7, with 14:09 left in the first half, but an 11-0 Razorback run over the next 6:30 put the game away for good. Arkansas used a 28-7 run over the first 8:11 of the second half to take a 67-24 advantage, and led by at least 32 for the remainder of the evening.
Mark Stewart paced the Gold Rush with 19 points, including 4-of-12 on three point field goals. Alfred Williams chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and two assists in 36 minutes.
The Hogs return to the court Monday when they face California University in their second and final exhibition contest of the year. Tip is set for 7:05 at Bud Walton Arena.
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