Arkansas 94, Iona 77
Fresh off a week in which it made an appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in seven years, Arkansas' basketball program celebrated by getting off to its best start in 17 years.
Michael Qualls and Anthlon Bell each scored 20 points despite being sick to help No. 25 Arkansas beat Iona 94-77 on Sunday to cap a three-win week and hand the Razorbacks the Roundball Classic championship.
Rashad Madden added 16 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists and Bobby Portis 11 points and 9 rebounds as Arkansas improved to 6-0 for the first time since the 1997-98 season with a road win at SMU on Tuesday and home wins Friday over North Texas and Iona.
"I think they're a heck of a basketball team, I really do," Iona head coach Tim Cluess said. "Their depth is really good, they're relentless. They play with tremendous energy, but they play together as a group. To the end of the game, they kept sharing until they got the mismatch or the breakdown that they wanted to get. They were very good."
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, whose team played without injured starter Alandise Harris (foot injury), eventually put the pedal down and wore the game Gaels (4-2) down toward the end of the game.
“You just know it always is going to come,” Anderson said. “It’s the cumulative effect of the pressure defense. You could see it around the 10-minute mark. We were getting ready to pull away and then I think they cut it back to three. That’s when the 14-2 run came. It was eventually getting ready to come.
“...Basketball is all about advantages/disadvantages,” Anderson added. “They attacked our pressure and did a good job in the first half, but in the second half I thought it paid off for us. I really do. Those shots they were making earlier, they were not making any more."
With Arkansas leading just 67-65 with 7:35 left in the game, Qualls scored 10 points in a late 4-minute stretch to spark a 17-4 run that put the game away.
“We got the rebounds and we were able to push the ball down the floor, some transition offense and then in our half court I thought we started attacking the basket," Anderson said.
Qualls, who had 15 of his points in the second half, hit three 3-pointers during the final 10:12 and added an acrobatic one-handed steal while falling into the Arkansas bench.
He was too sick to come to the media room after the game with Anton Beard (8 points) taking his place and Bell coughing through the post-game session.
"He was sick earlier in the day and yesterday," Anderson said. "He was hurting a little bit. That just tells you his heart. He didn't want to let his team down. He probably played more minutes than he ever played. I guess it's something that guys get sick and have career days. He almost had a double-double. Nine rebounds, three assists, he played well."
His play inspired Beard, whose 3-pointer gave Arkansas a 63-61 edge and the lead for good.
“Mike is going to be Mike every game," Beard said. "He’s going to do what he’s supposed to do. I feel like he played really good today, though. Real sick. Just being that sick and actually playing good, that brings out his character.”
Arkansas was just 34-of-83 from the field (35.4 percent), 11-of-25 from 3-point range and 15-of-23 from the free throw line, but dominated the boards 51-40 and also forced Iona into 18 turnovers.
The Gaels were 28-of-65 from the field - 14 of 35 in the second half - while hitting 7-of-23 3 pointers and 14-of-20 free throws.
A.J. English scored 19 of his 25 points in the first half for Iona (4-2). David Laury also had 25 points and 14 rebounds.
Qualls slowed English down in the second half and forced him into five turnovers.
"Sometimes when you are sick you get more focused. He was more zoned in," Anderson said. "Really zoned in on the defensive side of the ball as well as the offensive side of the ball. Normally Mike plays with the spectacular taking place. Well tonight he had the opportunity to do the spectacular things and it was good to see he understood about poise and bringing it back out and of course we end up getting a layup on that particular play."
Arkansas will travel to No. 13 Iowa State on Thursday night in what will be the first time a ranked Razorback team has faced a ranked foe since 2000.
Manuale Watkins - who had six points, four rebounds and two assists - scores over Iona's David Laury.
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