Seven-foot freshman center Steven Hill tipped in a miss to put the White team ahead 70-69 with 46.6 seconds to play, but sophomore Olu Famutimi of the Red team collected an offensive rebound and scored to retake the lead 71-70.
With 17.2 seconds left, junior captain Jonathon Modica drove baseline looking for the go-ahead basket, but 6-10 center Darian Townes blocked the shot, collected the rebound and was fouled.
Townes coolly sunk both freebies to seal a 73-70 comeback win for the Red after Modica’s open three missed as time expired.
“Two big plays late in the game ... That’s what’s been missing,” said Heath before borrowing a line made popular by old-time football coaches Darrell Royal and Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles.
“They’re still puppies out there, but they have a little bite in them. That’s what is encouraging as a coach -- knowing they are going to be on the floor battling.”
After the first full game action in front of the fans since Midnight Madness looking to see improvement in all areas, Heath came into the postgame interview room smiling.
He was happy his two teams combined to shoot 80.4 percent from the foul line (37 of 46), played with great effort and went at each other tooth-and-nail in one of the most competitive and well-played Red-White games in recent memory.
Heath even thought the Red team with Townes, sophomores Ronnie Brewer and Olu Famutimi, junior transfer Dontell Jefferson and junior Rashard Sullivan had an edge over the White team of Hill, junior Eric Ferguson, walk-ons Sammy Muncey and Preston Cranford, Modica and senior Mike Jones.
That wasn’t the case after the Red team shot just 32.4 percent in the first half and needed a 13-2 run to take the lead midway through the second half.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I enjoyed today,” Heath said. “I thought the guys really played hard and battled each other. It was a good game. It may have appeared one team, the Red team, had an advantage, but the White team did a great job.
“The Red team came back and made some plays in the second half.”
Modica and Brewer, Arkansas’ captains and top two returning scorers, posted game-high totals of 23 points each.
Jones added 20 and Jefferson scored 19 on 7 of 15 shooting.
“I just went out and played my game, do what I know I can do and stick with it,” Jefferson said. “I’m going to try to cut down my shot selection. I was feeling it, so I made sure the shots I took were good shots. I’m going to try to get my teammates more involved.”
Hill tied with Ferguson for game high honors in rebounds with 8 and also rejected 6 shots to go with 6 points on 3 of 3 shooting.
Hill, a left-hander, hit a nice jump hook and heard a huge roar from a grossly inflated announced attendance of 4,417 in his first action in front of the Arkansas fans.
His mother, Penny, died a week before Midnight Madness and he did not participate in the Razorbacks’ first public practice.
“It felt great,” Hill said. “I was nervous. Everyone is so supportive down here. It was a great feeling.”
Townes blocked 3 shots and scored 12 on just 4 of 11 shooting. He had three impressive follow-up slams off misses but rushed himself on a couple jumpers and hook shots to drag down his percentage.
“The (big men) stepped up with some crucial blocked shots, rebounds,” Brewer said. “Darian showed a lot of maturity when he stepped in and knocked down the free throws at the end. I have to give it up to him. He played bigger than a freshman.”
While Brewer and Jefferson combined to handle the point guard role for the Red team with 7 total assists and 5 steals, Ferguson did nearly everything for the White team.
Ferguson led all players with his 8 boards, 6 assists and 5 steals and showed he is in no way going to be an afterthought this year even with Jefferson taking up major backcourt minutes.
“Eric had a lot on his shoulders,” Heath said. “He was pretty much the primary ball handler and it wore him down. But he did a good job handling the press. Now the luxury is we can keep two guys with good ball skills on the floor most of the time.
“It’s going to make things run smoother offensively and defensively.”
Heath wasn’t happy with everything his Hogs did in terms of defensive rebounding and its halfcourt defense out of its fullcourt press.
“It seemed like we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds from rotating and being out of position,” he said. “I didn’t think our rotation was as good. We have to get our press more aggressive and rotate out of that.”
Arkansas opens its exhibition schedule with two games in the next two weeks. The Razorbacks play Texas A&M Commerce this Saturday and Abilene (Texas) Christian University on Nov. 12.