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.
UA comes out with a purpose
Arkansas forward Alandise Harris , center, reaches to score past Indiana State forward Justin Gant, left, during the second half Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Indiana State Coach Greg Lansing paused for a few seconds when asked what impressed him about Arkansas - other than Anthlon Bell’s shooting - after the Razorbacks beat the Sycamores 91-71 in a first round NIT game Tuesday night in Walton Arena.
“I’d have to say a lot,” Lansing said. “When I saw the matchup I was concerned because of the style they play. I wish I could coach that way. They play really hard at both ends.”
Lansing said Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson gets his players to “really defend hard” and allows them to play freely on offense.
“It’s a well-coached, well put together team,” Lansing said. “I think they should be in the NCAA Tournament.”
Arkansas’ 20-point victory matched the largest losing margin for the Sycamores (23-11) this season. They also lost by 20 points at No. 2-ranked Wichita State, 68-48, on Jan. 18.
“Their depth is outstanding, their speed, their length,” Lansing said of the Razorbacks. “It’s just a very good basketball team. I’m very impressed with them from top to bottom.”
Bell, a sophomore guard, led Arkansas (22-11) with a career-high 28 points, hitting 11 of 13 shots, including 6 of 8 three-pointers.
After Bell scored the Razorbacks’ first 10 points and 18 in the first half to help them take a 37-31 lead, his teammates got more involved offensively in the second half to help Arkansas pull away.
Junior forward Alandise Harris finished with 13 points, junior guard Ky Madden and sophomore forward Michael Qualls had 11 each, and senior forward Coty Clarke and freshman forward Bobby Portis had 10 each.
“We’re excited to be here,” Clarke said of playing in the NIT. “Some teams don’t want to be in this, but we’re just trying to finish strong. I know I want to continue playing basketball a long as I can, and so do the guys with me, so that’s our mind-set.
“It’s five games, and we’re down one and we have plenty more to go.”
Portis said Bell’s shooting helped open up the inside for the Razorbacks in the second half, when they outscored Indiana State 28-12 on points in the lane after the Sycamores had an 18-4 edge in the first half.
Harris, Portis and Clarke combined for 28 of Arkansas’ 54 second-half points.
“I started the game like 0 for 7,” Portis said. “Normally, I don’t do that. So for [Bell] to pick up the slack for me and Coty and the rest of the guys, that was huge for our ball club.”Indiana State senior point guard Jake Odum, a four-year starter, said the Razorbacks’ length on defense reminded him of playing Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament when he was a freshman.“You get past the first guy and you’ve got a 6-10 guy who can jump right behind them,” Odum said. “That’s why they’re at Arkansas. They’re at a big-time program and they’ve got big-time players.”
Anderson said he was proud of how the Razorbacks bounced back after losing their previous two games at Alabama 83-58 and to South Carolina 71-69 in the SEC Tournament.
“You always wonder how your guys are going to respond, and our guys came out, I thought, with tenacious energy on defense,” Anderson said. “We were really getting after it against a really good Indiana State team.”
The Sycamores cut a second-half deficit from 19 to eight points before the Razorbacks put away the game with a 20-3 run.
“They wore us down,” Odum said. “They grinded on us and they earned it.”
The Razorbacks held the Sycamores to 35.3 percent shooting (24 of 68) and blocked six shots.
“You give a lot of credit to their defense and the back line of their defense,” Lansing said. “That’s why they can put a lot of pressure on you. I thought we could have finished a little better too.”
Arkansas out rebounded Indiana State 46-32 after the Razorbacks were out rebounded 40-24 by South Carolina.
Portis said he and Clarke talked before the Indiana State game about how the Razorbacks couldn’t be beaten on the boards again as they were by the Gamecocks.
“South Carolina whipped us on the glass, and that’s why we lost primarily,” Portis said. “So this game I wanted to crash the boards hard and just try to whip them on glass.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/20/2014