Junior guard Mardracus Wade had 14 points and freshman Michael Qualls a career-high 13 to lead five Razorback players in double figures – none of who was Young - in a 73-62 win over Texas A&M Saturday afternoon before 14,026 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
The win for Arkansas (19-12, 10-8) meant the Razorbacks won all of their SEC home games since 1998, matched a school-record for home wins while going 17-1 inside Bud Walton Arena this season and gave them their first SEC winning record in five years.
"It's a step in the right direction," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "We talk about how you compete for championships.You've got to take are of home, and then go and split on the road … The recipe would have been even better this year. You split on the road, you've going to have a chance to win a conference championship. That's a step. We're taking steps in the right direction. I think you can see now we've got more guys ready to play."
??"I am proud of the way we competed," Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said. "We had some opportunities, a ball went out of bounds in front of our bench unfortunately and we didn't get the break. I am proud of our team playing without Elston Turner. We played two walk-ons a lot of minutes. I thought we fought hard. This is a tough place to play. I played here 16 years ago as a head coach against Nolan Richardson. It's one of the toughest places to play. I have great respect for how hard Arkansas plays and just the tradition of Arkansas basketball."?
Because of wins by Arkansas and Tennessee and losses by Georgia and LSU, the Razorbacks ended up as the seventh seed in next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville and will open Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against 10th-seed Vanderbilt (14-16, 8-10).
The Razorbacks split a pair of games with the Commodores this season with both teams winning their home games while playing arguably their worst games of the season (a 59-33 Arkansas win in Fayetteville and a 67-49 Vanderbilt one in Nashville).
"I think we've got a little momentum," Anderson said. "Now we go and everybody is on a neutral site. I like our team … I do. I like it. We've got the right mindset. Defensively, I think we've been doing some good things. As long as we come with the energy and the effort, especially on the glass, because our defense I think has been pretty solid from the standpoint of making people take tough shots. The ending part of it is coming up with the rebound. We've just got to continue to do a better job of that."
Wade, whose team is now riding a 13-game home winning streak - believes his team is finally moving in the right direction.
"To me, it is really big," Wade said. "We have been having a couple of down years these last few years with coaching changes and all that stuff and it just feels good to get it done. It is kind of like a relief and joy. I am happy for this team, happy for this state and happy for the University. Hopefully we can continue to do that."
Qualls echoed that sentiment.
"I have never played before so being a freshman and being a part of that – it feels great," Qualls said. "It just shows signs of what it can be. We beat a lot of good teams here, lot of great teams. All we have to do is keep pushing and continue to get better and keep it clicking and continue to get better. Then try to break another record. Like you said, we are like this now, but next year we want to be even better."
Rashad Madden added 11 points whole Anthlon Bell and Marshawn Powell both chipped in 10 and Coty Clarke had seven points and a game-high eight rebounds as the Razorbacks won the board battle 31-24.
"It just tells you we've got some other players on our basketball team," Anderson said. "We know that BJ is the leading scorer and he's capable of putting up some big numbers. But there's going to be some nights when he's not. So it's good for our guys to see that other guys can do it in other ways tonight. And one of the ways tonight, look at Qualls, he got to the free throw line. He only made two field goals but he got to the free throw line and he made them (8 of 10)."
Powell and Young – averaging 30 points per game combined - both came off the bench in what Anderson described as a coach's decision first and then allowed after another question about the pair that it was about team rules.
"There are team rules that we abide by," Anderson said. "So with that being said, I want to make sure our guys abide by them. That could be in an area of class attendance, just not doing the things … It's a coach's decision."
Speculation has both Powell (who ended up playing 24 minutes) and Young (a career-low tying two points in a career-low 11 minutes) leaving to play professionally next season, but Anderson did not want to talk about that after the game and said he did not hear the students chanting one more year.
"I didn't even hear the chants, and obviously we've got a lot of basketball left this season," Anderson said of the SEC Tournament and any post-season play. "Once the season's over, that's something we'll sit down and discuss."
Arkansas shot just 38 percent from the field, but knocked down 28-of-36 free throws on a day when Texas A&M shot 51.2 percent from the floor and was 14-of-20 from the line, but committed 23 turnovers.
"We got to the free throw line," Anderson said. "We were attacking. We didn't settle for jump shots. That's been the trend lately is that we've been settling so teams are .. misouri got to the line more than we did. A lot of teams have been getting to the line moreso than we have. and we're an attacking team. So we've got to get back to that mindset where we're attacking. Today we did."
Wade and Kikko Haydar had three steals each on a day when Arkansas had 14.
Wade hit 3-of-5 3-point attempts while Bell was 2-of-5 from beyond the arc and also added a spin move inside and a team-leading three assists in 16 minutes of action on the afternoon.
"It's evolved to the point coach trusts him to put him out there," Anderson said of Bell's game. "Just have to leave him out there a little bit longer, I think. But it's good to see him come out and knock down shots. He even made the point, I don't just shoot 3s. you can put it on the floor too. So it was good to see him go out there and showcase some of that. Because that's going to be a great weapon for us as we continue to go down. You've got to have somebody who can knock some shots down. Especially when teams zone us."
Arkansas roared out to a 31-13 lead before stalling and seeing that big lead turn into just a 33-26 one by intermission.
"I think we kind of started playing like we had already won the game," Wade said. "Our energy level was done and Coach made a couple of substitutions and those guys got back and fought and got back into the game. Like I was telling the older guys, once we get a lead we have to keep on just doing what we do and that's pressuring and getting to the free throw line and cash in. We can't get comfortable out there and that is one of those things that some times we tend to do and that is get comfortable. We can't get comfortable."
Qualls agreed that his team let up after the big lead and even compared it to the road, where Arkansas won just one game this season.
"Basketball is a game of runs," Qualls said. "There's ups and downs and there are going to be some lead changes so you have got to be able to just play through it. That's why I think we have problems on the road is we get hit by somebody's run and we don't respond with a run of of our own. At home that is not the case. But you can't get rattled, you just have to play through it."
The Razorbacks opened that lead back up to 16 when Powell's lay-up made it 59-43 with 8:40 left, but the Aggies clawed back within 64-58 with 1:46 left.
Arkansas then put the game away at the line by nailing seven of its last eight free throws.
"I can't say enough about our guys really stepping up to the defensive side of the ball and making plays," Anderson said. "There are times, and I even saw it tonight, some guys played until how the offense went. I'm the opposite kind of coach. I want guys to go and get it on defense, because the defense can create some easy offense for you. And I think you're more engaged, more aggressive. I think even right there at the end, it was a four-point game, and we changed defenses, and now all of a sudden now we're getting quality stops and getting some layups at the other end."
Fabyon Harris had 16 points to lead Texas A&M while Jordan Green added 14 and Kourtney Roberson 13.
All photos by Marc F. Henning
Michael Qualls goes after a shot by Texas A&M's Fabyon Harris.
Anthlon Bell scores two of his 10 points.
Coty Clarke reacts after a drive and dunk.
Arkansas' students unfurl a banner asking BJ Young and Marshawn Powell to stay one more season instead of turning professional.
Arkansas defenders Kikko Haydar, Rashad Madden, Marshawn Powell and JaCorey Williams harass an Aggie ballhandler.
Mike Anderson had been 0-7 against Texas A&M in his head coaching career before notching the win over the Aggies on Saturday.
Legendary Arkansas track coach John McDonnell - the winningest coach in NCAA history - was introduced to a rousing standing ovation and presented Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long with a copy of his new book.
Former Arkansas wide receiver and current Minnesota Viking Jarius Wright - sitting by Long - was also introduced during the game.