FAYETTEVILLE – Never the nail-biter like Arkansas’ 61-60 escape over Missouri on Jan. 24 in Columbia, Mo., Arkansas comfortably won its rematch, 84-69, over the Tigers Wednesday night before 12,693 at Walton Arena.
Wednesday’s win advances coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks — 18th and 17th in the AP and USA Today national polls — to 21-5 overall and a second-place 10-3 in the SEC, going into Saturday’s game at Mississippi State.
Missouri — in a rebuilding phase under first-year coach Kim Anderson, and losing its best guard, Wes Clark, with a season-ending elbow injury three games ago — has lost 12 consecutive games and drops to 7-19, 1-12.
Arkansas almost literally took this game, compelling 20 Missouri turnovers, including 14 in Arkansas’ 37-29 first half, spurred by a 15-0 run.
But, it was Arkansas’ 7-0 run to start the second half that ended his Tigers, Kim Anderson said, noting Mizzou’s recovery from Arkansas’ big first-half run.
“I thought the first four minutes of the second half would decide the game, and it did,” Kim Anderson said. “And it decided it the wrong way.”
Arkansas’ opening second-half run started with a Ky Madden putback, and had Kim Anderson calling timeout down 50-32 with Bobby Portis scoring for Arkansas at 17:41.
“Offensive rebounds and second half points destroyed us” Kim Anderson said. “I thought the key play was the first play of the second half they get a loose ball and get second chances and the game goes from eight points to 15. Our defense was not very good and our rebounding was not very good.”
Mizzou didn’t quit, several times cutting it to 12, but by 7:55, Portis had the Hogs up 18 again at 71-53.
“Give Kim Anderson’s kids credit, they didn’t wilt,” Mike Anderson said. “But that (second half’s) first five minutes set the tone. It came from our defense setting up opportunities for us on offense and then we knocked some shots down. We are a team that plays with a game of runs and now we are starting to get more of them. We are getting more runs and longer runs and it’s because of our defense.”
On the night his boyhood AAU coach — former Razorback great Corliss Williamson, MVP of Arkansas’ 1994 national championship team — was honored at halftime with a banner hung in his honor at Walton, Arkansas sophomore Little Rock Hall alum Bobby Portis hit 8 of 12 from the field to score 16 points.
Junior guard Michael Qualls, with four 3-pointers, and another of his array of patented highlight film dunks, led the Hogs with 21 points, and freshman guard Anton Beard scored 13.
Though committing seven first-half turnovers and eight for the game, forward Johnathan Williams led Missouri with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while reserve guard Tramaine Isabelle also scored 13 and reserve forwards Jakeenan Gant and Montaque Gill-Caesar each scored 11.
Arkansas muddled with Missouri for half the first half, trailing 19-16 at 10:23.
Then Anthlon Bell’s tying three commenced a 15-0 run. It was a run that that poked along until Portis blocked Jonathan Williams’ shot on one end and Qualls nailed a three on the other for a 25-19 lead at 7:25.
A Portis basket completed the run at 3:41 for a 31-19 lead that Mizzou trimmed to seven before Bell hit one of two free throws with 16 seconds left for a 37-28 halftime.
Arkansas had the opportunity to lead by far more, forcing 14 Mizzou first-half turnovers while committing only four, but only outscored the Tigers, 9-3 on first-half turnovers.
“We were up 13 with like 2:40, 2:50 left, something like that, and I thought we kind of let up, and we went into halftime up by eight,” Anderson said. ” But it’s a 40-minute game, not a 20-minute game.”
Qualls said the Hogs dominated the right half.
“We just want to win the second half,” Qualls said. “Of course we want to start off and play the whole game tenacious. Every halftime, coach always says the score’s 0-0 and we need to come out and win the second half.”
Arkansas won that second half early and ultimately won big.