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.
One last run does it for Arkansas
Arkansas' Bobby Portis dribbles before a lay up as South Alabama's Aakim Saintil defends during their game at Verizon Arena December 21, 2013.
More than eight minutes passed in the second half of Saturday night’s game in Verizon Arena with Arkansas scoring only two points.
A drought like that can be lethal, but the Razorbacks regrouped late to pull away for a 72-60 victory over South Alabama before an announced crowd of 10,113 in North Little Rock.
After the Jaguars pulled to within 46-43 on two free throws by Augustine Rubit with 9:09 left, Arkansas senior guard Mardracus Wade and sophomore forward Michael Qualls combined to score 12 points and key a 15-6 run that pushed the Razorbacks’ lead to 61-49 at the 5:18 mark.
South Alabama didn’t pull closer than 10 points the rest of the game.
“Our guys had a gutty effort,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “You’ve heard that story about the raggedy ride versus a smooth walk. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but we found a way to win.”
Bobby Portis, a freshman forward from Little Rock Hall, led the Razorbacks (9-2) with 15 points. Arkansas junior guard Ky Madden scored 12 points and sophomore forward Michael Qualls had 11 points, including nine in the final 6:45.
Razorbacks junior forwardAlandise Harris, who played at Little Rock Central, added 10 points and senior forward Coty Clarke scored seven.
Senior guard Antoine Allen led South Alabama (6-6) with 21 points. Junior forward Mychal Ammons scored 14 points.
“I really don’t think we were worried, because I know Coach is going to put the right people out there at the right time to make the play that needs to be made,” Harris said of the final minutes. “If he makes a mistake by putting somebody out there, he’s going to tell us that it was his fault.”
Anderson didn’t make a mistake by relying on Wade, who didn’t play against Clemson and Savannah State earlierthis season. Wade scored five points in a 30-second span, hitting two free throws and a three-point basket, to put the Razorbacks ahead 52-43 with 7:29 left.
Wade’s three-pointer came on an inbounds pass after Portis made 1 of 2 free throws and his miss on the second attempt went out of bounds off a South Alabama player.
Qualls then scored seven consecutive points, including a driving basket and a dunk.
“I don’t want to take anything away from him, but I think four of those points were just kind of giveaways because of how we are scrambling, and that’s not how we usually play defensively, being extended,” South Alabama Coach Matthew Graves said of Qualls. “I thought we did a really good job on him early in the game, and he is a tremendous player because he can hurt you inside and out.
“For the most part we did a good job on him, but he got a couple of highlight dunks late. The crowd liked it, but that is about all it was for me.”
Qualls, who came into the game averaging a team-high 14.4 points, scored his only points in the first half on a dunk at the 14:30 mark.
“The second half I think he came back and he played a lot better,” Anderson said. “I thought when it really mattered he made some big plays for us.”
Portis scored 12 points in the first half, when he hit 5 of 6 shots, but he sat out an eight-minute stretch of the second half after picking up his third foul.
“Bobby got into a little bitof foul trouble in the second half, but he was able to be in there at the end and help finish out the game,” Anderson said.
Madden said the Razorbacks did a good job of not panicking during their offensive struggles in the second half.
“I think it was just staying in it, just staying together,” Madden said. “We know that it’s a game of runs, so as long as we can take their run, they’ve got to come back and take ours.”
Arkansas outscored South Alabama 22-10 on points off turnovers. The Jaguars had 20 turnovers after coming into the game averaging 12.5
“We ended up fighting back, making it a ballgame, but at the end we just let too many possessions get away from us,”Graves said.
He said he believed the Razorbacks were settling for jump shots when the Jaguars put together their comeback.
“I think they got complacent and we just kept grinding and grinding and made baskets,” Graves said. “Maybe it’s a little different if you get the lead and things tighten up.”
Anderson said the Razorbacks’ energy on defense helped them win.
“We got a little stagnant on offense, but I thought the defense was still intact,” he said. “That’s the thing that’s going to carry us throughout the year, our defense.”
Anderson also had praise for the fans.
“We had a great, great, great crowd here,” he said. “Great enthusiasm. Great passion.”
Sports, Pages 23 on 12/22/2013