Arkansas 84, Southeast Missouri 67

Bobby Portis scores a season-high 24 points and grabs 9 rebounds and Michael Qualls scores all 15 of his in the second half as Arkansas downs Southeast Missouri State 84-67 before 11,375 fans at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK - Much like Santa Claus, the Razorback basketball team only comes to Central Arkansas once a year and certainly made the most of it.

Little Rock native Bobby Portis tied a season-high with 24 points and also grabbed nine rebounds as Arkansas (8-2) rolled past Southeast Missouri State 84-67 before 11,375 fans at Verizon Arena.

Michael Qualls had all 15 of his points after halftime while Anthlon Bell had 11 of his 12 before intermission for Arkansas (8-2).

“It was a great atmosphere and I thought our guys played a pretty good basketball game,” Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said. “The first half we did a lot of great things defensively and had a tremendous finish there sharing the basketball.”

The crowd was the Razorbacks’ largest of the year for a home game, topping 9,270 for last week's win over Dayton in Fayetteville.

“The people here are obviously true Razorback fans,” Anderson said. “More importantly, they don’t get a chance to see us play that much so it is like for 40 minutes there is energy going on in the building whether we were up or down.”

Arkansas senior forward Alandise Harris (9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) said the two fan bases are different.

"They are more wild in Little Rock because they are impressed to see us because they don't see us because we are only coming one time a year," Harris said. "We have got to put on a show in Little Rock."

Southeast Missouri (5-6) - coached by Little Rock native and former Arkansas State head coach Dickey Nutt - praised the crowd as well after the win.

“It was fantastic,” Nutt said. “I don’t think you could ask for much better. Any time you play in Central Arkansas and you give your fans a chance to maybe drive across the street instead or four of five miles instead of two or three hours and trying to get back late - it was a happening tonight.

“It didn’t matter if it was Southeast Missouri going to be here, it wasn’t going to make any difference,” Nutt said “although I guess if it was a top-rated team it might have been sold out. Bottom line is it was impressive that they came out to see the Hogs…and they were into it.”

Nutt also praised the Razorbacks- who shot 50 percent from the field, knocked down 7 3-pointers and 21-of-29 free throws - after the win.

“We played a really fine basketball team tonight,” Nutt said. “I thought they were very, very good and I thought they wore us down. They don’t have many weaknesses at all.

“I thought, man, Portis is really, really a fine player,” Nutt added. “They go about 10 or 11 deep and they bring a couple of 1,000-point guys off the bench that makes them very, very explosive.”

Portis was 9-of-14 from the field, 5-of-8 from the free throw line and knocked down 1-of-2 3-pointers.

"I just let the game come to me today and my teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open," Portis said. "That was primarily what it was." The crowd included Nutt’s three brothers - former Arkansas head football coach Houston Nutt, former Razorback assistant coach Danny Nutt and youngest brother and current Ouachita Baptist coach Dennis Nutt.

“It brings back a lot of good memories and to see that crowd tonight was impressive,” Nutt said. “You can’t help - as a coach - to envy something like that and our guys I could see it in their eyes as well.”

“I’m not giddy because we just hung in there,” Nutt added. “I mean we still got beat by 20-plus."

Arkansas took a 45-28 lead at halftime when it ran a perfectly executed play to get Bell a 3-pointer in the right corner - his second 3-pointer in the last minute before intermission.

“We wanted the ball to get in and Ky to get it up there and I have to give credit to Manuale Watkins,” Anderson said. “Manuale actually had a lay up, but he had the presence of mine and knew he had a shooter over there and Anthlon made the shot.

“That is the unselfishness of our basketball team,” Anderson added. “We wanted to get a shot attacking the basket, but we also had a guy out there on the 3-point line and he was able to knock it down and execute it.”

Qualls came alive in the second half after a poor first half in which he was scoreless and had four of his five turnovers.

“In the first half, I thought he was just kind of a step slow with his passes,” Anderson said. “He had four turnovers and Mike really don’t turn the ball over a whole lot…It tells me he wasn’t really connected with the other guys because they were playing well.

“But it was good to see him bounce back the second half,” Anderson added. “I thought he came and played with energy and let the game come to him.

“I thought he really started exerting himself on defense and it just really triggered him on offense,” Anderson continued.

"I just had to keep playing and Coach T.J. just came up to me and said 'you are a good player, spurts ain't nothing to come by, points ain't nothing to come by, just keep playing," Qualls said. "Everything is bound to happen eventually...It is just about maintaining and keeping focus."

Arkansas needed that when Southeast Missouri - who lost by four at Missouri and had not lost by more than 10 points all season - used a 14-2 run to pull within 49-42 with 15:17 left in the game after a flurry of Razorback turnovers.

The Razorbacks responded and took a 80-57 lead - their largest of the night - on two free throws by Qualls with 3:46 left.

"I thought we gave them a little bit of a scare there, maybe not as much as we wanted to, but a little bit in the second half when we made some adjustments at halftime,” Nutt said.

“You have got to give Mike a lot of credit,” Nutt continued. “He has done it every where he has been and now he is doing it Arkansas and he is doing an unbelievable job. But I was proud of our team. We played with a lot of fight.”

Anderson had just one thing that got him mad - with Keaton Miles, Portis and Madden all getting technicals call on them.

“Coming off finals, you never know how your guys are going to come out and play, but I was pleased,” Anderson said. “The only thing I wasn’t pleased with was the technical fouls. I am the only guy that is supposed to get technical fouls so I have a problem with that.

“When things start to get a little chippy, our guys have got to learn how to walk away from it,” added Anderson, whose team nevertheless scored eight straight points - all by Qualls - after that and cruised to the win..

Portis took a shot from Nino Johnson in that scuffle which got him a technical as well.

"He hit me so hard I don't remember what happened," Portis said while laughing.

Jarkevious Bradley had 17 points to lead the Redhawks while Antonious Cleveland had 13 and Johnson 12 for Southeast Missouri, who shot just 41.1 percent from the field.

Arkansas will have a quick turnaround as it will host Milwaukee - formerly the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin - Monday night at 8 p.m.

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