Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Arkansas makes it look easy
Arkansas's Coty Clarke dunks during the first half of the basketball game against UT Martin in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on Thursday December 19, 2013.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas had no trouble passing its first test after a week-long break for finals.
Facing Tennessee-Martin seemed more like a pop quiz - open book - for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas jumped out to a 27-point lead in the first half and coasted to a 102-56 victory over the Skyhawks on Thursday night in Walton Arena before an announced crowd of 6,315.
“We knew they’d be ready to play,” Tennessee-Martin Coach Jason James said. “They seemed to me even more ready to play because they hadn’t played in a while.
“They were kind of hungry and they came out and right from the jump, that’s how they played.”
James said Arkansas (8-2) is among the best teams Tennessee-Martin (5-9) has played this season. The Skyhawks also have road losses to Wyoming by 18 points, Colorado by 26, Florida State by 28 and UNLV by 30.
RECORDS Arkansas 8-2, Tennessee-Martin 5-9
STARS Arkansas senior forward Coty Clarke (15 points, 9 rebounds) and freshman forwards Bobby Portis (15 points, 9 rebounds) and Moses Kingsley (12 points, 12 rebounds)
TURNING POINT The Razorbacks outscored the Skyhawks during a 10-minute span in the first half to take a 49-22 lead.
KEY STAT Arkansas shot 61 percent (42 of 69) from the field
UP NEXT Arkansas plays South Alabama at 7 p.m. Saturday at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock
UNLV is probably the most talented team Tennessee-Martin has faced, James said, but Arkansas unquestionably plays the toughest defense. The Razorbacks held the Skyhawks to 27.5 percent shooting from the field (19 of 69) and outscored Tennessee-Martin 21-3 in points off turnovers.
“They play like their house is on fire and they’ve got to rush to get everything out,” James said. “That’s the urgency they play with, and tonight they got everything out of the house before it burned down.”
Senior forward Coty Clarke and freshman forward Bobby Portis each had 15 points and nine rebounds to lead the Razorbacks to their 20th consecutive home victory.
Arkansas freshman forward Moses Kingsley had career highs of 12 points and 12 rebounds. Junior guard Ky Madden and sophomore guard Michael Qualls scored 11 points each, sophomore guard Anthlon Bell had nine and senior guard Fred Gulley had eight.
“It was a well-played ballgame by our guys,” Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson said. “We came out with great intensity, defensively especially. I thought that set the tone for this game.”
The Razorbacks shot 60.9 percent from the field (42 of 69), including 10 of 21 on three-pointers, and had 24assists. They out-rebounded the Skyhawks 49-31 and outscored them 54-18 on points in the paint.
“I always talk about assists and sharing the basketball, and we saw it on display tonight,” Anderson said. “Guys making the extra pass and trusting that that guy is going to knock the shot down. When we didn’t knock the shot down, we were going to the offensive glass.”
The Razorbacks were ahead 49-25 at halftime in contrast to their previous game, when they led Savannah State 27-25 before pulling away in the second half to win 72-43.
Anderson said the Razorbacks were focused coming out of finals.
“This team, I think they’re listening,” Anderson said. “When I say they’re listening, they’re hearing what I’m saying in terms of let’s put 40 minutes together. Let’s take 20 minutes from Savannah State and see if we can get off to a start and play 40 minutes of the type of basketball that we’re capable of doing.”
Senior guard Terence Smith led the Skyhawks (5-9) with 19 points. Myles Taylor, a junior forward who was Portis’ teammate at Little Rock Hall, had eight points for Tennessee-Martin in his 11th game this season after recovering from knee surgery.
“I think he enjoyed being in his home state, but Myles is a competitive guy and he would have liked to play better,” James said. “He would have liked that we had played better as a team.”
Anderson said the Razorbacks’ defense helped them get some easy baskets, and when they didn’t have fast break chances, they did a good job of setting up the offense and moving the ball.
“The floor was spaced out, guys were really getting in the lanes and finishing at the rim,” Anderson said. “Then they went to a zone and we did a great job of executing zone offense and moving the basketball, sharing it and finding the open guy.
“So it’s one of those deals where the confidence was really in effect tonight and it got contagious.”
Sports, Pages 22 on 12/20/2013