NORTH LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis sent out a tweet Saturday afternoon saying that he had been waiting for this day since he was 16.
That was only two years ago, but still the wait came to an end on Saturday as Portis – the former Little Rock Hall standout who turned into a McDonald's All-American – got his chance to play college basketball near his home.
Portis had 12 of his 15 points in the opening half – scoring nine in one stretch that gave his team a comfortable working margin - en route to a 72-60 win over South Alabama before 10,113 fans at Verizon Arena.
"We had a great, great, great crowd here," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. " Great enthusiasm. Great passion. They love the Hogs. I mean, even right now, they aren't ready to leave. That bodes well for our basketball team.
"I want to say Merry Christmas to them and the Razorback Nation and thank them for coming out and creating a great atmosphere," Anderson added. "That could be the difference in a game. When we needed it, they were there."
Arkansas - which shot 48.1 percent from the field on the night - led by 12 in the first half, let the Jaguars get back within 3 and then put it away at the end.
"Our guys had a gutty effort," Anderson added. "You've heard that story about the raggedy ride vs. a smooth walk. It wasn't a thing of beauty, but we found a way to win. I thought our energy on defense was the difference in the game."
Portis, who got a huge ovation when he was introduced during the starting line-ups, was 5-of-5 from the field in the first half and 6-of-7 on the night as he scored in double figures for the sixth straight game.
He also added 6 rebounds, a block and a steal while playing 25 minutes.
"It was a great feeling when they called my name out," Portis said. "I was so pumped up then that at the beginning of the game, I started off slow. I was just too pumped."
It was also a homecoming for former Little Rock Central star Alandise Harris, a junior transfer who had 10 points and 6 rebounds for Arkansas (9-2).
That came just two years after scoring 18 in the Cougars' win over the Razorbacks in the same building with then junior and Razorback commit Portis looking on from the stands.
"It was well-needed to get our Little Rock fans, and local fans up in Fayetteville to actually attend some games instead of just watching on TV," Harris said.
"...I feel like we're in a good position," Harris added. "We lost two games to good teams. We need to get a couple more wins and get ready for conference."
They impressed South Alabama head coach Matthew Graves, a former assistant at Butler under current Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.
Graves, whose team lost by 7 points at both Gonzaga and Texas earlier this season, went as far as to say he thought Arkansas was the best team his squad had faced this season.
"On film I told our guys that I thought this was probably the best team that we're going play so far, even though Gonzaga won against Arkansas," Graves said. "I felt that Arkansas' ability to switch a lot of ball screens and switch and their length would really stretch us and challenge us. Obviously looking at the turnovers (20) and shooting percentage (35.1 percent from the field), it did that."
Rashad Madden had 12 points and Michael Qualls 11 for Arkansas in its fifth straight win since its return from a 1-2 trip to the Maui Invitational and the team's last game before its Christmas break.
Coty Clarke added 7 points and a team-high 8 rebounds.
Arkansas also did a great job of South Alabama star Augustine whose 8 points was 11 below his average although he did have 10 rebounds.
Rubit had 35 in his team's loss to Gonzaga.
"Their length really bothered us and the ability to switch to a lot of our balls screens - that really hurt.," Graves said. "We can get Augustine some good looks when we can pick and pop and he's got some space to to operate. With Arkansas' ability to switch ball screens, it really limited what we could do offensively and we really didn't have an answer for that.
"We need to continue to find ways to get him the ball, Graves added. "He did get 10 rebounds, but certainly we want him to have 12 to 14 shots a game and not 8. Certainly I have going to give Arkansas credit for that."
Arkansas also got a big lift from senior guard Mardracus Wade, who had not seen much playing time at all recently.
When South Alabama cut a 12-point first half lead to 46-43 midway through the second half, Wade grabbed an offensive rebound and hit two free throws.
After Portis added a free throw, Wade then drained a huge 3-pointer to give his team a 52-43 lead.
The Razorbacks would never lead by less than seven points from that point on.
"Well, that's what I've been preaching to him about doing, about doing some of the extra stuff," Anderson said. " I's that third and fourth effort plays that you've got to come up with. And those were big plays, big free throws as well.
"It's kind of like you're bleeding and you have to do something to stop the bleeding," Anderson said. "He stopped the bleeding."
Wade said he had been patiently waiting his turn.
"I stayed patient and stayed poised and went through my every day routine and had confidence in myself and my teammates making plays and we did," Wade said.
Qualls seemingly hurt his elbow on his final dunk of the game,
"He probably dunked too hard probably, knowing him," Anderson said. "He's fine."
The Hogs have scored 70-plus points in each of the first 11 games of the year for the first time since the 1994-95 season.
"I think Arkansas is going to have a great season," Graves said. "It was a good preparation for us as we head into (Subelt) league play."
Graves also loved the atmosphere.
"I loved it," Graves said. " I thought the crowd had good energy. They were loud and they were into it. If I had my preference I would certainly rather play here then up in Fayetteville from what I understand.
"It was a good atmosphere," Graves added."It was good for us. We don't get that many opportunities to play in front of a large crowd like this."
Arkansas' players will be off until Christmas night when they will all arrive back in Fayetteville to get ready for Saturday night's 7 p.m. game with High Point.
Photos courtesy of the Associated Press
Alandise Harris bulls his way to two of his 10 points.
Bobby Portis had a team-high 15 points for Arkansas.
South Alabama's Mychal Ammons looks to score over Arkansas' Alandise Harris while Bobby Portis provides pressure.
Coty Clarkes tries to manuver around Ammons.
Mike Anderson's team has now won five games in a row.
Former Butler assistant and current South Alabama head coach Matthew Graves gives instructions to his team.
Arkansas 72, South Alabama 60
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