Arkansas 97, Alabama State 79

Bobby Portis had 24 points and Anthlon Bell 20 as Arkansas opened its season with a 97-79 win over SWAC favorite Alabama State on a snowy Sunday afternoon before 4,475 fans at Bud Walton Arena.

The first half of Arkansas' season opener was very offensive to Razorback head coach Mike Anderson, who watched his team and Alabama State split a whopping 96 points.

But he talked his team into getting defensive about it at halftime and the result was a 41st straight win in home openers for Arkansas dating back to a 102-100 loss to Western Kentucky back in 1973 at Barnhill Arena.

Bobby Portis had 7 of 24 points in a key stretch in the second half, Anthlon Bell 20 and Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris added 13 each as the Razorbacks downed the Hornets 97-79 on a snowy Sunday before 4,475 fans at Bud Walton Arena.

“Hats off to my guys,” Anderson said. “In the second half I thought they went out and executed the game plan and really just ratcheted it up on defense. We did a good job of paying attention to details as opposed to the first half. The first half was more offense to me as opposed to defense. Second half I thought we came out and hung our hats on our defense and that allowed us to get out in transition and pretty soon we had a nice flow to the game.”

Alabama State's Demarcus Robinson had 21 points to lead Alabama State (1-1), but missed both of his field goal attempts in the second half after hitting all seven of them in the opening 20 minutes – including 5 of-5 3-pointers while racking up 19 points.

“We paid attention to detail and we found him,” Anderson said. “He is an excellent shooter. This kid can really shoot the basketball. But I thought in the first half we left him open a lot. We would rotate off of him and you don't leave the shooter – especially when the guy has got the hot hand. They did a good job of attacking.

“I have to give credit to (Alabama State head coach) Lewis Jackson,” Anderson added. “He had his team – which is a veteran team – ready to play and they had nothing to lose and they played like that in the first half. In the second half I thought we saw our guys kind of ratchet it up on defense and get in passing lanes and pay attention to details. We found him and fatigue was a big factor in it, too."

The Hornets led 54-53 on a jumper by Jamel Waters with 17:17 left, but Portis then took over the game by scoring seven straight points.

That spree included back-to-back dunks and a 3-pointer that pushed Arkansas ahead by six and then Bell notched a jumper to make it a 9-0 run and a 62-54 lead with 15:31 left in the game.

“Last year I was kind of nervous at times and I was trying to be too perfect,” Portis said. “This year I just came out with a level head and said 'forget it, just ball out.'”

Portis – who dubbed himself a role player in the post-game press conference, was 9-of-11 from the field on the day, 3 of 3 from 3-point range and 3 of 6 from the free throw line.

Albeit a consistent double-figure scorer as a freshman, Portis topped 20 points for only the second time in his young career with his career high of 35 coming against Alabama last season.

“Bobby can be as good as he wants to be and I think that's the key,” Anderson said. “I thought he played well from the offensive standpoint, but I think there are some things he still needs to do for us defensively. He has got to be a better rim protector and I challenged him on that. We know he is a big cog in what we are doing and it is good to see our guys go to him.

“He steps out and made some threes, but more importantly I thought we were getting the ball to him on time,” Anderson added.

Alabama State would cut it back to within three points, but Jacorey Williams' only bucket of the game, a lay up by Manuale Watkins (8 points), a lay up by Rashad Madden and two free throws by Moses Kingsley pushed Arkansas ahead 73-64 with 7:52 left and the Razorbacks cruised home from that point.

Bell was 7-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-4 from 3-point range as Arkansas hit 8 of 14 from 3-point range on the day and shot 56.7 percent overall (34-of-60) from the field.

Jabril Durham started at point guard and had four points, a team high six assists and just one turnover in 21 minutes of action.

He started because Madden – who also had six assists in 21 minutes to go along with six points - had missed the last two days of practice after his grandfather had passed away.

“Ky (Madden) lost his grandfather earlier in the week and hadn't been practicing the last two days,” Anderson said. “So he went down there and got here right before the game. That's why he didn't start. I thought it took him awhile to get into what we were doing and did have an impact on the game in the second half.”

Arkansas forced Alabama State into 18 turnovers and 44.3 percent from the field.

“We just had to keep after them and know that sometime in the second half they would wear down,” Bell said. “That's what happened. At halftime, we came together and said we just need to lock down on defense and just come out and not play too cool like we did in the first half. We had to come out and scramble.”

The Razorbacks will return to action with a home game against Wake Forest on Wednesday night at 8 p.m.

Michael Qualls goes up for a jumper over Jamel Waters

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