It took a big effort in the second half, but the Razorbacks finally put away a pesky band of Ragin' Cajuns late Friday night before 9,042 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Especially one pesky Rajin Cajun in NBA prospect Efrid Payton, a 6-4 point guard who almost by himself gave his team a chance for the upset with a game-high 27 points.
But Razorback junior forward Alandise Harris – who led the way for his team with 19 points off the bench – had big plays both offensively and defensively late as Arkansas downed Louisiana 76-63 in an early-season battle of unbeaten teams in a game that is actually part of the Maui Classic.
Micahel Qualls added 16 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists and 6-10 true freshman Bobby Portis 14 points for the Razorbacks (2-0), who were down 60-59 with 6:09 left in the contest, but closed the game out by scoring 17 of the final 20 points.
"First of all, we were glad to get the win against a very good basketball team in Louisiana," Anderson said. "When you have a guard of that caliber in Payton, he kind of reminds me of that kid that played at Syracuse – the (Michael) Carter-Williams kid. It is hard to stay in front of a guy like that because he can make so many things happen.
"They came out with great energy, made shots – made their first six shots," Anderson added. "We were kind of in a hole early on. I didn't think we came out with the energy that you have to come out with. That's why I say sometimes you can't look at the names on the jerseys. These teams are good. When you've got a player of that caliber – and we know because we have seen a lot of players.
"...But give our guys credit," Anderson continued. "They hung in there and hung in there and the wear and tear of keeping guys coming at him – not only Payton, but also coming in at the big kid Shawn Long."
Long was averaging a whopping 26 points, 14.5 points and 4.5 blocks for Louisiana (2-1) coming into Friday's game, but the 6-9, 245-pound standout got three first-half fouls and finished the night with only 12 points, 5 rebounds and no blocks.
"Alandise did a good job of coming off the bench and attacking him and getting him in foul trouble," Anderson said. "It is a 1-point game at halftime and if there is a half that we want to win, it's the second half. I thought in the second half fatigue was a big factor in it and we had one of those spurts right there at the end. That is the great thing about how we play. You don't know when it is coming, but if you can just kind of hang around and hang in there, eventually it will come."
That occurred with six minutes left as Arkansas started to break away with Portis drilling a big 3-pointer, the Razorbacks taking three charges on Payton - with Harris taking one of those and also blocking a Payton shot - and forcing many of the Ragin' Cajuns' 15 second-half turnovers and turning them into easy baskets on the other end.
Qualls had played against the lightly-recruited Payton, who was hounded into nine turnovers on Friday night, in high school and AAU basketball.
"Payton was killing us on the drive," Qualls said. "It took us three quarters of the game to realize we needed to step in and take some charges and stop the drives. He (Payton) had made progress. He's impressive."
Anderson, whose team shot 50.9 percent from the field and made 20-of-26 free throws, noted the positives of taking charges.
"When Payton was coming in there, he was trying to get to the basket, trying to get to the free throw line...It gets contagious when you start taking charges," Anderson said. "That is a sign of a team that is willing to sacrifice.
"You just think about what a charge does – it puts a personal foul, a team foul," Anderson added. "A lot of things take place. You take an opportunity away from them to score. It's a turnover. That's four things right there and we get a chance to score on the other end. Those are big plays and if you take three of them in a game – especially in the second half – it can really change things."
Lousiana head coach Bob Marlin, whose team shot 40.4 percent, was obviously disappointed in the loss.
"I thought our guys played well for 35, 36 minutes and a couple things went wrong down the stretch," Marlin said. "We didn't catch many breaks. And Arkansas made some plays at the end that made a difference in the game."
He also was disappointed in the effort put forth by Long, a transfer from Mississippi State.
"I felt like he was the best inside guy on the floor, and he didn't prove it," Marlin said. "I also thought he got fouled on that last lob. It's an area that should be protected. You hate to get a guy hurt at the end of the game."
Marlin did praise Harris for his effort on the night.
"I thought he was the difference in the game," Marlin said. "...He played extremely well. He had a good first half and played well in the second half. I was really impressed with him. And I know Mike thinks a lot of him. He's obviously a tough kid that has a good game and he's a tough guard because of his size."
Arkansas fell down by nine points early, but rallied to take a 39-38 lead into intermission as JaCorey Williams hit a short baseline jumper with 16 seconds left before intermission.
Harris, the former Little Rock Central star who redshirted at Arkansas last season after playing two seasons at Houston, bounced off the bench to spark Arkansas with 15 of his 19 points in that opening half.
"I am good coming off the bench," Harris said. "I know my role. Rebound, block shots, steals, just all-round game. That's the normal thing. That's just part of my overall game. I am going to take charges and block shots."
He was 7-of-10 from the field – including a 3-pointer - and 4-of-5 from the free throw line on the night.
"Alandise is an experienced guy," Anderson said. "He's a man. He can score obviously in a lot of different ways. He is going to be a guy that shoots a lot of free throws and that's why I tell him 'keep working on your free throws.' He is just has a knack for getting to the basket. He is a face-up forward. Every now and then he'll step out and knock a shot down.
"I kind of challenged him on that one where he had a step back three – 'whoa, we don't do that, man," Anderson added. "But he just brings a toughness that you have got to have. It allows our other guys to just get on his back. It was good to see him get back when he was inserted there at the end. He made some outstanding plays.
"To me that is a sign of him understanding what he brings to the table – not just offense, but defense, too. He gets rebounds, tough rebounds," Anderson added.
Qualls had 12 of his points and Portis 10 of his after intermission in what was the Razorbacks' 16th straight home win.
"He (Qualls) played an all-around game," Anderson said. " He played a lot of minutes in that second half. But he was playing basketball. He was rebounding the basketball. He was dunking it. He was just active. He had eight rebounds..
"You're seeing a guy that continues to evolve, and evolving in a way where he's doing a lot of other things. It's not just scoring. He's doing a variety of things, and that's making us a much better team," Anderson added.
Portis was challenged by his coach at halftime.
"I thought he wasn't playing athletic," Anderson said. "I didn't think he was playing with that aggressiveness we see in practice each and every day. But in the second half, he was more assertive and playing like he's capable. He started protecting the rim on the backside.
"Early in the game, they were just scoring layups, and we had guys in position," Anderson added. "The second half was a different story. They only scored 25 points. That's a credit to our guys making that subtle adjustment defensively. Now let's come up with those loose balls, and we came up with more of them in the second half than we did in the first half."
Marlin left the court with six second left after shaking hands with Anderson and was assessed a technical.
"I went to shake Mike's hand with 6 seconds to go," an obviously frustrated Marlin said after the game. "I had seen enough and wanted to go shake his hand...They said something about it. I don't know why I would get a technical. If they say I'm out of the box, I thought they were out of the box all game."
Marlin took exception to the charging calls.
"We're disappointed in those and our staff felt like our guys were in the upper motion, which it's not supposed to be called a charge," Marlin said. " It's supposed to be called a block. They called some charges on them too though in the first half. I don't know what they were for the game. And it's probably a tough game to call. But we had five turnovers in the first half guys and we had 20 for the game. So all those charges and tough plays down the stretch hurt us."
Anderson, whose team was just 2-13 from 3-point range while the visitors were 2-of-17, thought the game must already be over when Marlin approached him.
"I actually thought the game was over with," Anderson said. "He just said 'good game' and I guess he just got tired of watching it. It was kind of weird, but I thought the clock had 0.0 on it so I don't know what was going on. Sometime frustration gets the best of you and we had a great run going down the stretch – 17-3 or 17 to something. We changed our defense and I thought it got them off-kilter a little bit. But one thing that was consistent was our pressure defense."
Anderson thinks this win will be looked upon as a really good one down the line.
"It is a good win against a good team and Bob Marlin does a good job and they will be a dangerous team come March, especially in the Sun Belt," Anderson said.
Arkansas will host SMU (2-0) on Monday with Hall of Famer Larry Brown now coaching the Mustangs.
Photos by Jason Ivester
Alandise Harris guards Elfrid Payton on a night when the two combined for 46 points.
Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis celebrates after a late dunk as teammate JaCorey Williams looks on.
Fred Gulley started at point guard in both halves and had 3 points, 3 assists and 2 steals while playing 12 minutes.
Coty Clarke and Mardracus Wade pressure Elfrid Payton.
Rashad "Ky" Madden saw his first action of the season after serving a three-game suspension, but his time was limited by the flu.
Anthlon Bell missed all four of his 3-pointers, but did hit 4-of-5 2-pointers and had eight points on the night.
Michael Qualls had 16 points and team highs of 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
Kikko Haydar drives the baseline.
Harris listens to instructions from Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson.
Arkansas 76, Louisiana 63
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