12:30 PM ET, December 7, 2002
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Illinois (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) converted a sea of Arkansas mistakes into important points and defeated the undersized Razorbacks 62-58 on Saturday.Point guard Eric Ferguson's turnover with 2.9 seconds remaining, his ninth of the game, killed Arkansas' last chance to tie or take the lead. It was the 22nd turnover of the game for the Razorbacks.Brian Cook hit the first free throw of a 1-and-1 situation with 8.4 seconds remaining, giving Illinois a 60-58 lead. When Cook, an 87-percent free throw shooter, missed his second, Arkansas freshman Jonathan Modica passed the rebound out to Ferguson.Ferguson turned up court, took two dribbles and attempted a half-court pass to Dionisio Gomez. The ball sailed out of bounds and Illinois' freshman point guard Dee Brown sank two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to seal the game."We tried to hit the home run instead of the single there and it hurt us,'' first-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath said.When the Razorbacks had four chances to take a lead in the final minutes, they had no one with Cook's experience to step forward. So the Fighting Illini (5-0) stayed perfect this season while Arkansas (1-4) lost its fourth straight."We knew we had to get stops, rebound the ball and not give them second chances,'' said Cook, who scored 12 of his game-high 18 points in the second half."Arkansas played so hard and made shots in the second half to make the game really close,'' Illinois coach Bill Self said. "They outplayed us and we were fortunate to win the game today.''It was the second time in a week Arkansas pushed a Top 25 team until the final minute. The Razorbacks lost to then-No. 22 Tulsa 61-60 last Saturday. In between, Arkansas lost 74-66 to Troy State for the Trojans' first-ever victory over a team from the Southeastern Conference."It's a mental growth for us,'' Heath said. "We definitely, since the season started, have been playing the jerseys. We don't have the luxury to show up against anybody. There's not one team on our schedule where we can just show up.''Ferguson's final mistake mirrored the start of the game when Arkansas began with five straight turnovers. Seven of Ferguson's turnovers came in the first half and Illinois converted the turnovers into 19 points.Arkansas burned its final time-out with 15:34 remaining and was unable to set up a play in the final 2:25 when it had three chances to take the lead while trailing 59-58.Ferguson's steal with 2:25 to go was wasted when Luther Head swiped the ball from Michael Jones with 2:02 left. After a miss by Cook, who led Illinois with 18 points, Ferguson missed an off-balance 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 1:07 remaining and Augustine grabbed the rebound.After another miss by Cook, Ferguson missed a jumper in the lane with 14 seconds left and Gomez' failed tip attempt was rebounded by Augustine with 12.4 seconds to go."Those possessions were very critical,'' said Modica, who had 11 points, six rebounds and just one turnover in his first start. "I'm surprised with the caliber of coach we have and the type of players we got that we didn't succeed.''Gomez led four Arkansas players in double figures with 15 points and had his second double-double of the season with 11 rebounds. Freshman guard Kendrick Davis had 14 points, three assists and two steals off the bench, while Ferguson scored 11 points.Illinois led 28-24 at the half and opened the second half with a 10-0 run as Augustine and Brown had four points apiece.Arkansas missed its first eight second-half shots before Ferguson hit a 3-pointer at the 15:17 mark.But the Razorbacks recovered and trimmed the lead to 49-46 after consecutive 3-pointers by Ferguson and Modica capped a 22-11 run with 10:44 remaining. Arkansas made five of 11 3-pointers and scored 10 points on offensive rebounds in the second half to have a chance at the end.