Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Qualls comes through in clutch
LEFT: Michael Qualls dunks the basketball with 0.2 seconds left in overtime during Arkansas' 87-85 win over Kentucky on Jan. 14. RIGHT: Qualls hits a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining during the Razorbacks' 77-75 win over Vanderbilt on Feb. 8.
FAYETTEVILLE Michael Qualls has struggled at times this season, but the sophomore has also come through with arguably the two biggest plays for Arkansas in 2014.
Qualls scored his second game-winner of the season Saturday when he buried a 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining in the Razorbacks' 77-75 win at Vanderbilt. The shot capped a team-high 17-point performance for Qualls.
"He always wants to be in that position," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "He frowns every time somebody else is in that position. It was an opportunity for him to step up and make a play and I am proud of him. It just shows me the growth and maturity of him as a player.”
Qualls stole national headlines last month when his acrobatic offensive rebound and dunk with 0.2 seconds remaining in overtime sealed Arkansas' 87-85 upset of then-No. 13 Kentucky. The Shreveport, La. native was jubilant after that game, but had a more subdued approach following the win over Vanderbilt.
"We're trying to get it going, so it (isn't a) time for celebrations and laughs and giggles," Qualls said.
"It feels big to know that I'm there when the team needs me. If they need me, I want to be there to try to make a play."
Qualls, the team's leading scorer during the nonconference season, struggled following the Kentucky game. He combined to score 9 points in the three games following against Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn.
It appeared as if Qualls had snapped out of his slump when he scored 16 points in a home loss to Missouri on Jan. 28, but he was suspended for the next game at LSU for what Anderson called conduct detrimental to the team. One week later he found himself making highlight reels again.
"He was engaged in the game,” Anderson said of Qualls' game at Vanderbilt. “What took place, that's history and it is time to move forward. I was proud of him coming out and just really focusing on helping our basketball team – defensively, offensively, whatever he could do to help our team."
Much like the Kentucky game, Qualls found success in an uptempo style at Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks scored 22 points off 15 forced turnovers against the Commodores.
"I feel like this is the first game where we came out and played tenacious all 40 minutes - not 30, not 25, we played all 40 minutes," Qualls said following the Vanderbilt win. "We're going to try to continue to do that and stay on that pace."
Arkansas fans are hopeful Qualls can keep up the pace. The Razorbacks have a chance for a second straight road win when they travel to Missouri on Thursday.