Arkansas 100, Northwestern State 92

Michael Qualls had a career-high 28 points and 7 rebounds while playing against several of his former AAU teammates and Bobby Portis adds 22 points and 12 rebounds as Arkansas downs Northwestern State 100-92 Sunday afternoon before 8,507 fans at Bud Walton Arena.

Northwestern, La., State brought in the nation’s leading assist man, the country’s second-best scorer and a program that has been the second-best nationally in scoring the last couple of years.

The Demons took their best shot, but Arkansas shook off Christmas break just enough to keep from ending up like several other SEC teams - along with Michigan and Michigan State - and lamenting a home loss to an underdog.

Michael Qualls had a career-high 28 points, Bobby Portis 22 points and 12 rebounds and Rashad Madden 12 points and 8 assists as the Razorbacks downed the Demons 100-92 Sunday afternoon before 8,507 at Bud Walton Arena.

"First thing I said is I am glad we got the win," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "That's the key. You have got to find a way to win. There are going to be some nights when it ain't going to be there. I thought from a pressure defense, even our half court defense, at times it was good and at times it wasn't so good. We were rebounding the ball well, early.

"One of the disappointing things was they scored at the rim so easy," Anderson added. "We can't allow that to happen. They shoot 54 percent in the second half. We had a lot of rebounds where we made stops and didn't come up with the basketball. That's where you have got to finish teams off but I watch a lot of college basketball and you see those upsets take place quite a bit. So our guys defended the home court and I appreciate all the fans that came out and encouraged our guys."

Jacorey Williams added 12 points and 7 rebounds for Arkansas (10-2), who won its third fourth straight game and its 51st straight at home against an unranked foe.

It was also the first game since the Razorbacks (10-2) - who saw their 12-point lead dwindle to as little as four with just over four minutes left in the game - took a four-day Christmas break and resumed practice on Christmas night.

“In between - happy that we won, but we gave up too many points,” said Portis, who was 11-of-16 from the field on a night when Arkansas shot 50 percent (38-of-76) from the floor.

Arkansas missed its first five shots and found itself down 7-0 to start the game before reeling off 10 of the game's next 12 points.

"Obviously there are things we have to continue to get better at," Anderson said. " Off the (Christmas) break we saw the effects of the break coming out. It seemed like we were a half-step slow in every department starting out."

Jalan West - a 5-10 junior guard leading the nation in assists at 8.6 per game and a preseason mid-major All-American - had 25 points and 7 assists to lead the Demons, who shot 51.4 percent (36-of-70) from the field and were 5-11 from 3-point range and 15-of-18 from the free throw line.

Zeek Woodley - a 6-2 sophomore guard who is the second in the country in scoring at 23.3 per game - had 21 for head coach Mike McConathy, who said it was his team's best game of the season.

"I'm really proud of our kids coming off a second game in 18 days to come out and compete against such a well-coached and talented team, to do the things we did today," McConathy said. "I really see a lot of growth in our team the last 18 to 20 days. I'm proud of the way that Jalan handled himself on the big stage, along with Zeek Woodley. Being able to take the ball and make some things happens. Not just scoring shots, but being able to get other people in the ball game."

Both West and Woodley were AAU teammates of Qualls on a team that he said were "really nice."

“I knew they weren’t going to back down so it was easy for me not to,” Qualls said. “We all played on the same AAU team - me, Jalan and Zeek - the same AAU team when we were growing up and younger so yes I know these guys really good."

This is the fifth game this season of over 20 points for Qualls.

"He is playing well," Anderson said. "He is playing at a high level. I think Bobby is playing at a high level and he (Qualls) is playing at a high level. We are trying to get Ky to play at a high level and I thought Ky started off overall and did some good things until that bad turnover right there at the end.

"But Michael, when you play a team from your home state that's this close by, he is very familiar with all those guys - West and the Woodley kid and (Melvin) Frazier - that's like a bragging rights game to him," Anderson said. "So we saw him continue to play at the level we have got to get him to play at."

West lauded Qualls - who combined with Williams for back-to-back dunks with 15 seconds that put Arkansas up 98-89 with 49 seconds - left and his improvement since their high school and AAU days.

Qualls was 9-of-16 from the field, 2-of-5 from 3-point range and 8-of-9 from the free throw line and neither he or Portis had a turnover in a combined 61 minutes.

"I think he played great," West said. " I think he expanded his game since high school. He became a better shooter, a better driver and a lot of more stuff to the game. I think he played a great game. He had 28 points and 7 rebounds which was pretty big.

"In AAU when we were on teams, we'd just throw it up and he'd go get it," West added. "Playing against him in high school, he would block shots and put-back dunks and dominate the game in that kind of way."

McConathy, whose team had just seven turnovers and had a 54-48 edge in the paint, had hoped at one time that Qualls would be a part of the Demons (4-6) before he blew up on the AAU circuit.

"I've really been impressed with his ability to expand his game because he kind of blew up after his junior year going into his senior year," McConathy said. "All of the sudden 'wham.' We were trying to be involved then he blows up on the AAU circutit and from there the sky is the limit for him because he had great size and great leaping ability. He's developed into a very nice player, quality young man and it's encouraging to me when you see somebody's game step up to the next level above where it was."

Arkansas, who out-rebounded its foe 45-32 and had 22 offensive rebounds to the Demons' 12 - played without freshman guard Anton Beard, who suffered an ankle injury in his team's Christmas night practice and is listed as day-to-day.

"Beard hurt his ankle in practice the first day back," Anderson said. "That's why we held him out. I thought he was one of those guys we missed tonight because he is is one of those guys that maybe could have slowed down a Jalan West because he thinks defense.

"It was a team of guards and they did a good job of when the spread us, they attacked us and made some plays," Anderson said. " Going down the stretch we had the opportunity to distance ourselves. We made stops but we didn't come out with the rebound whether they knocked it out of our hands or us not going and getting.

"But they wouldn't go away let's give them credit," Anderson continued. "They wouldn't go away and it's amazing when teams hang around, a lot of weird bounces start taking place and we saw one tonight. But I thought at the end of the day our guys found a way to win there at the end but of course having a guy like Beard would have helped us."

Zeek Woodley - the nation's second-leading scorer - gets inside former AAU teammate Michael Qualls for a bucket on Sunday.

Rashad Madden and Bobby Portis defend Jalan West.

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