Arkansas' first post-season game since 2008 was a very happy one from Anthlon Bell and his teammates.
Bell had a career-high 28 points while hitting 7 3-pointers and led six Razorbacks in double figures as Arkansas downed Indiana State 91-71 in an NIT opening-round game Tuesday night before 7,697 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Alandise Harris added 13 points, Michael Qualls and Rashad Madden 11 each and Coty Clarke and Bobby Portis had 10 each with Portis also having a career-high 13 rebounds and breaking the Arkansas freshman record.
"I was proud of our guys that bounced back from a tough loss to South Carolina," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said while referring to his team's SEC Tournament loss. "As a coach, you always wonder how your guys are going to respond.
"Our guys came out with tenacious energy on defense," Anderson added. "We were really getting after it against an Indiana state team that's a really good basketball team."
Arkansas ripped off a 20-7 run to start the second half and a 20-3 one late to end the season for the Sycamores (23-11), who finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference this season to No. 2 and unbeaten Wichita State (34-0).
Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing said that the Razorbacks were in the wrong tournament.
"When I saw who we drew I was a little concerned to say the least," Lansing said. "I think they're an NCAA team for sure...We want to play good teams, so we were excited to come down here and compete against them.
"But we take three days off after our conference tournament loss to Wichita," Lansing added. "The practices weren't tremendous as we're waiting to see if we're in the NIT. I don't know how much we got out of it.
"Then we have to come here and play a team that plays in a different style, just a very difficult team to prepare for in one day," Lansing continued. "And they wore us down a little in the second half. The style, the constant pace, the pressure they put on you at both ends of the floor, very well coached. I admire how they play, how hard they play, the unselfishness with which they play at both ends."
Anderson certainly agreed with his opposing coach.
"I thought our team really wore them down and we had some guys really shoot the ball well, especially Anthlon Bell," Anderson said."
Bell was 11-of-13 from the field and 7-of-9 from the 3-point line in the win as he started in place of Qualls.
"It surprised me, too," Bell said. "I owe it all to the offense. The offense was working good and my teammates were finding me and I was getting good screens."
Anderson told Bell right before they left the locker room and that decision turned out to be a great one.
"It's great to see and I've been seeing it in practice," Anderson said. "I think he's staying humble with it this time. Early in the year, he started off, and I thought he kind of starting feeling himself a little bit. Then he struggled.
"It's good to see him stick with his routines," Anderson added. "And going out and defending. He went out and got a charge tonight. He's doing all the other things, and when you start doing all the other things in basketball, the thing that he really specializes in terms of shooting and scoring, that comes naturally. What it did was, it extended the defense."
Lansing also sung Bell's praises.
"It certainly was Bell's tonight," Lansing said. "He got going and they rewarded him for a lot of things and he took advantage of it, was hot from the start and never let up."
Arkansas shot 64.5 percent from the field (16 of 26) in the second half and 49 percent for the game.
"Some teams aren't excited to be here," Clarke said. "But we are excited to be here and playing in this tournament."
Bell had his team's first 10 points and 18 in the first half the first half as the Razorbacks had a 37-31 lead at intermission.
Arkansas then ripped off a 20-7 spree to start the second half and took a 57-38 lead on senior Mardracus Wade's 3-pointer with 13:46 left in the contest.
After the Sycamores fought back to within 69-61 with 6:18 left, the Razorbacks ripped off a 20-3 run with Bell scoring the last eight points of that run to close it out.
"In the second half, no question about it, it was a game of runs," Anderson said. "We had a run right there at the end of the first half, and in the second half you could see us kind of impose our will and speed up the game against an attacking team in Indiana State.
"But they're a very good basketball team," Anderson added. "They won 23 games and you can see why. Greg Lansing does great job with his team. But I just thought our team wore them down. The depth, the quickness, the athletic ability, and we shot the ball well."
Harris had 10 of his 13 points in the second half.
"It was good to see," Anderson said. "He was in a beast mode tonight. We had great ball movement and he found the mismatch...i just thought we had great ball movement and great people movement. No one was just standing, the ball didn't get stuck and when you do that there are some match-ups that you are going to have a chance to exploit.
"I thought we did a good job of finding the right guy during that particular period," Anderson added. "Especially in the second half with the shot clock down and we were knocking down shots right at the end."
Manny Arop had 12 to lead the Sycamores while leading scorer Jake Odum was held to 8.
Portis - who started 0 of 7 from the field - now has 210 rebounds, which breaks the mark held by Marshawn Powell.
"Before the game me and Coty talked about rebounding," Portis said. "We lost our last our game against South Carolina, They whipped us on the glass, and that's why we lost primarily, because of rebounding. This game I want to crash the boards hard and try to whip them on the boards."
Arkansas will play the winner of Wednesday night's California and Utah Valley State in the second round of the NIT.
That game will be played Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Alandise Harris puts home a layup.
Anthlon Bell signals a three.
Michael Qualls celebrates with Bell.
Coty Clarke pushes towards the basket.
Michael Qualls finishes a dunk.
Mike Anderson gives Qualls an ear full after a turnover.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
Arkansas 91, Indiana State 71
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