Arkansas will be on a Happy Flight to Hawaii.
Junior transfer Alandise Harris had an Arkansas career high of 21 points, Michael Qualls a career-high 17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks Monday night as the unbeaten Razorbacks got out to a 24-point lead and then held off previously undefeated SMU and Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown 89-78 before 8,987 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Anthlon Bell had 11 points and a trio of 3-pointers as Arkansas (3-0) hit 11 3-pointers – the most in the Mike Anderson era – so the Razorbacks will fly away Thursday for the eight-team Maui Invitational – which begins next Monday - with a bounce in their step after passing its three pre-Maui tests.
"Hat's off to our guys, I thought they came out and really set the tempo to the game in the first half," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "And it's easy to set it when you make shots. We made shots, our defense was really charged up, and that enabled us to have a little cushion at halftime.
"I always tell our guys, when you come back out, the first five minutes are critical," Anderson added. "… We came out and really continued to establish tempo. And then at one point in time in that game, I thought our guys thought the game was over. We lost our rhythm. We got stagnant on offense, and that transferred to defense. The energy on defense wasn't there to stop them. But give credit to Coach Brown. He's a tremendous coach, and he did a good job of managing the clock to lengthen the game there at the end."
Brown's team played without McDonald's All-American Keith Frazier, but he didn't think that was much of a factor in the loss for the Mustangs (2-1).
"I just think their quality of play effected us more than anything," Brown said. "We were completely outcoached. They controlled it. Their press didn't even hurt us and they dominated the game. Every effort play, every loose ball, every long ball in the first half — or first 30 minutes or 28 minutes – they got. And I think they were prepared and they made shots."
Harris – the transfer from Houston who had 19 points in his last outing – gave his team a 67-43 lead when he hit two free throws with 11:28 left in the game.
But Arkansas would go from just under the 10-minute mark to 2:39 with no field goals as SMU crept back into the game 74-67.
Harris would act as the go-to guy at that point with an old-fashioned 3-point play where he powered to the goal for a basket and added a free throw and then – when SMU cut it to 78-72 – he got a dunk and the Razorbacks then salted the game away from the free throw line.
"That's what we brought him for," Anderson said. "He's a guy that can make plays, whether it be for himself or others. When things kind of get stagnant, you've got to have someone you can go to, and something that can make something happen. And all you've got to do is understand time and where the game is, and he was able to make some plays for us, along with a guy like Michael Qualls.
"But we've also got to understand we've also got to do some things defensively, and that hopefully will create some easy offense for us," Anderson said. "But it's good to have somebody you can put the ball in his hands, and he can make a play."
Qualls did indeed make some big plays – including an offensive rebound basket off a missed free throw that gave Arkansas an 11-point lead with just under one minute left – while stuffing the stat sheet again.
"We've seen that …since the tip (of the season)," Anderson said. "He's the guy that's been doing all of the grunt work. He led us in rebounding last week, tonight he had 6 (boards), 4 assist … he had 3 blocks. So he's putting himself in a position where he can make plays, not only offensively, but defensively as well. He's showing more of a complete game. To me, that's the sign of guy that's trying to get better. He's trying to develop into a total player."
Brown certainly had praise for Qualls.
"He is my kind of kid," Brown said. "You don't have to throw him the ball. He just plays. I think those are special kids that help you win. Nolan had them, Mike has had them his whole career. Every day I go out to recruit I tell our guys look for guys with no necks, long arms and split high and I don't have to beg them to play hard. That's a perfect example of that."
Qualls noted that it was a case of his team letting up after getting the big lead.
"We lost our intensity," Qualls said. "In any sport I feel like you get a pretty comfortable lead you start playing not to lose. So when we started losing our intensity, I guess we just started trying to play the clock and that is not our style of play. We have to attack and play 40 minutes of basketball. Just like the last game we didn't play to our full potential through that last stretch."
Harris was 11-of-11 from the free throw line on a night when Arkansas was 28-of-37, but he made sure to point out that wasn't luck.
"Just something in practice every day," Anderson said. "We have to shoot 500 free throws a week within seven days every week. So it's just routine."
Bell knocked down a trio of 3-pointers while Qualls and Kikko Haydar added a pair while Rashad Madden, Jacorey Williams and Fred Gulley added one each.
Arkansas has gone 8-of-13, 2-of-13 and now 11-of-22 from 3-point range in its trio of games this season.
"As a team we put a lot of work in over the summertime on shooting," Bell said. "Coach stressed it because he knows we can't rely on just the inside game. We have to have people knock down shots. So as a team we took that upon ourselves to be a better shooting team."
Arkansas shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, but just 37 percent in the second half to end the game at 43.9 percent.
SMU shot 45 percent from the field, 4-10 from 3-point range and 20-of-29 from the charity stripe.
Brown was quick to add in his press conference that Bud Walton Arena's crowd on Monday was nothing like the one he saw 27 years ago when Arkansas beat his Kansas team 103-86 in Barnhill Arena.
"I didn't, I mean no offense to Arkansas, but I've been in the loud building – I was in Barnhill," Brown said. "You talk about a loud building."
Madden added 9 points and Bobby Portis 8 points, Coty Clarke 6 points and a team-high 8 rebounds for the Razorbacks, who once again spread the minutes and points around.
Arkansas knocked down 5 of its first 8 3-pointers and 8 of its first 12 shots overall while jumping out to a 36-22 lead as Williams, Bell and Qualls hit 3-pointers on successive trips down the floor.
That lead would grow to to 46-30 by halftime and 70-48 midway through the second half over the Mustangs, who had edged TCU and routed Rhode Island in their first two games.
Ben Moore had 19 points to lead SMU while Yanick Moreira – the nation's top junior college center last season – added 15 points, Illinois State transfer Nic Moore 12 points and Nick Russell 10.
"I've got this theory – and maybe I am dumb – I think it is easier to come back, but it is really hard to get over the hump," Brown said. "But I guess I'll go back and I have to look at something to be happy about and it's with 12:40 to go we are down 24 and we did make it a game."
But Arkansas would grab that win with solid play down the stretch as Harris and others made big plays and knocked down free throws at the end after knocking down 3-pointers to start.
"When you are down a lot of points you have got to play perfect down the stretch and we didn't quite do that," Brown said. "But again, give them credit – 11 from 22. I've watched film and they didn't come out shooting balls like that (in earlier games). They hit shots and then spread us out...They did a lot of really good things."
Arkansas will play California in the opening round of the Maui Inviational next Monday at 2 p.m. CST.
"This group's learning," Anderson said. "It's the third game of the season. There's a lot of basketball left."
Alandise Harris drives to the basket.
Ky Madden looks to make a pass.
Michael Qualls sinks a basket.
Madden soars for a rebound.
Coty Clarke slides along the base line.
Alandise Harris draws a foul under the basket.
Bobby Portis patrols the lane on defense.
Anthon Bell puts up a 3-point shot.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
Arkansas 89, SMU 78
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
TCU vs Iowa State primerAfter falling in double-overtime to Arkansas, TCU looks to get back to their winning ways against Iowa State.
Horned Frog Insider09/15/2016
The Ultimate Midlands TeamThere is a lot of talent in the Midlands region, with a vast majority of the highest rated recruits playing high school football in the Lone Star State. Which prospects made the…
These rival helmet color swaps are revoltingSwapping rival teams' helmet colors? It shouldn't have been done, but someone did it anyway.
Post-July 2017 Top 100 Player RankingsWith the July evaluation periods, Nike Skills Academy, adidas Nations and Under Armour's Elite 24 over, Scout's basketball recruiting team has updated the 2017 top 100. DeAndre…
2017 South Region Top 150The stars are lined up in the 2017 South Top 150 and you can see the full pre-season list here...