LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Ticker) -- New Arkansas coach Stan Heath came close to erasing an embarrassing loss to Troy State.
After winning its first four games by an average of 35 points, No. 20 Illinois hit the road for the first time and barely escaped with a 62-58 victory over Arkansas.
"Arkansas played their hearts out," Illinois coach Bill Self said. "We didn't play great but Arkansas had a lot to do with that. They outplayed us and we were fortunate to win the game."
Heath had the Razorbacks primed for an upset, especially since Illinois (5-0) was in position for a letdown after a rousing 92-65 rout of North Carolina on Tuesday.
Arkansas (1-4) was smarting from a 74-66 loss to Troy State of the Atlantic Sun Conference on Tuesday. It was Troy State's first-ever win over a team from the Southeastern Conference.
But the Razorbacks were no pushover on Saturday for Illinois. Trailing by as many as 16 points in the second half, Arkansas fought back and pulled within one on the strength of a 16-3 run and had a chance to take the lead.
With Illinois nursing a 59-58 advantage, Arkansas freshman guard Eric Ferguson drove to the basket, but missed a jumper in the lane with 14 seconds left and the Razorbacks fouled Brian Cook.
Cook made just 1-of-2 free throws with 8.4 seconds remaining, increasing Illinois' lead to 60-58. Arkansas never got a shot off on the next possession. Ferguson spotted Dionisio Gomez ahead of the field after Cook's miss on the second free throw, but his half-court pass sailed out of bounds with 2.9 seconds left.
"We tried to hit the home run there instead of a single and it hurt us," Heath said. "But you're going to get mistakes when you have a freshman backcourt. We had 22 turnovers for the game and we can't afford to do that."
It was the ninth turnover of the game for Ferguson, who finished with 11 points and just two assists.
Freshman guard Dee Brown sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds left for Illinois.
Cook scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half. Roger Powell and freshman James Augustine were the only others in double figures with 10 points apiece.
Gomez led Arkansas with 15 points and 11 rebounds and freshman Kendrick Davis added 14 off the bench.
Along with committing 22 turnovers, Arkansas also shot just 42 percent for the game, but was able to dictate the tempo against an Illinois squad which was averaging 91 points in its first four games.
The Fighting Illini led 28-24 at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half as Augustine and Brown each had a pair of baskets in the run. Ferguson connected on a 3-pointer to end Arkansas' drought with 15:17 left.
Ferguson and fellow freshman Jonathon Modica each hit 3-pointers to spark a 16-3 spurt which pulled the Razorbacks within 49-46 with 10:44 remaining.