FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas overcame a sluggish first half with a red-hot second half to pull away from Gardner-Webb for a 79-63 victory in its home opener on Saturday.
The Razorbacks, 4-0, shot just 34.3 percent in the first half and led by just three, 27-24, at the break.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs also got hot in the second period, hitting 62.5 percent of their shots, but that was just lukewarm compared to the Razorbacks. Arkansas made 70.8 percent of its shots, 17-of-24, and outscored GWU 52-39 in the period to get the win.
“All wins are good wins,” head coach Stan Heath said. “We are not picky. It wasn’t pretty in the first, but our energy picked up in the second.”
The more aggressive play not only improved UA’s shooting, it allowed the Hogs to get to the free throw line 24 times, where they made 15, after going two-of-three in the first half. Arkansas also had a 14-8 rebounding advantage in the second half after trailing 22-21 at the break.
Eric Ferguson was the spark. After going one-of-three for three points in the first half, he made all five of his shots in the second half and finished with a team-high 16 points. Darian Townes was also perfect, going three-of-three and four-of-eight for the game for 10 points.
Leading just 34-33 with 16:07 to play, Ronnie Brewer made a free throw, Ferguson a layup, and Charles Thomas scored on a putback and hit a three for a 41-33 advantage with 13:29 to go.
Gardner-Webb (2-1) got within 52-47, but Olu Famutimi drained a three, Ferguson and Townes hit free throws, and Brewer and Ferguson made layups for a 61-47 lead with 6:17 to go.
Ferguson scored five straight on a jumper and a three to push the margin to 66-50, but the Bulldogs got two threes from Tim Jennings around another three by Chris Gash to make it 70-59 with 2:24 left.
After a timeout, Thomas blocked a shot by Gash and Townes scored on a layup. Jonathon Modica made two free throws and Townes hit a three in the right corner with 52 seconds left to give the Hogs a 77-61 lead.
In the first half, Arkansas made just 12-of-35 shots while GWU was slightly better at 10-of-29 (.345). UA also made only one-of-six threes in the first half while the Bulldogs were three-of-12. Gardner-Webb was six-of-nine in the second period with UA three-of-four.
Ferguson added four rebounds, two assists and four steals to go with his 16 points. Townes had five rebounds to go with his 10 points. Brewer had 12 points, Famutimi nine, Thomas and Dontell Jefferson eight, and Rashard Sullivan six to go with seven rebounds.
Brian Bender scored a game-high 17 points for GWU. Jennings had 12 and Gash 11.
Arkansas plays host to Tulsa on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. in a game televised by Fox Sports Net South, which is Fox Sports Southwest in Northwest Arkansas.