NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Univ. of Ark.) - The Arkansas men's basketball team will head into the holiday break on a five-game win streak as another sound defensive effort helped the Razorbacks earn a hard-fought 72-60 win over South Alabama on Saturday night in front of a raucous crowd of 10,113 fans at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.
For the fifth straight game, Arkansas limited its opponent to 35 percent or less from the field, while it also forced 20 turnovers that led to 22 points off miscues. Over their current five-game win streak, the Razorbacks have forced 89 turnovers while its opponents have just 97 made field goals.
With its ninth straight win in the month of December, Arkansas improves to 9-2 with two non-conference games remaining at Bud Walton Arena. South Alabama now stands at 6-6.
"Again, tonight it was about defense and tonight we needed it," said head coach Mike Anderson, who has now led the Razorbacks to a five-game win streak in each of his three seasons at the helm. "We hit a tough spot on the offensive end in the second half and our defense helped us work out of it. The other thing that helped us tonight was this terrific crowd at Verizon Arena. Every time we play here it's a great environment and tonight was no different."
Playing in front of his hometown fans for the first time in his collegiate career, freshman Bobby Portis didn't disappoint as he poured in 12 points in the first half en route to a team-high 15 points and six rebounds. Portis has now reached double figures in seven consecutive games as was joined in double-digits by fellow Little Rock native Alandise Harris who added 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks. The duo had half of Arkansas' 36 points going into the half.
Trailing 13-10 midway through the first half, the Razorbacks embarked on a game-changing 22-5 run over an eight-minute span that turned a three-point deficit into the largest lead of the half (14), 32-18, with 2:29 to play. It was the Little Rock natives fueling the run, as Harris had six of the 10 straight points that started things while Portis had the final seven points of the 22-5 spurt.
Portis' seventh straight double figure game was in the books by the end of the first half, as he made all five of his attempts from the field in the opening 20 minutes to contribute 12 points in Arkansas' 36-27 halftime lead. It marked the eighth time this season the Razorbacks have led at the half, as they improved to 8-0 when leading at the break.
Arkansas' lead remained two possessions until the 9:09 mark in the second half, as the Jaguars closed to within three, 46-43, due to the Razorbacks scoring just two points over an 8:19 span.
Needing a spark, senior Mardracus Wade got the Razorbacks back on track with a pair of free throws that stopped the drought and followed with a three-pointer just 29 seconds later to quickly push the lead back to nine, 52-43, with 7:30 remaining.
Held to just two points through the first 33 minutes of the game, sophomore Michael Qualls returned to his 14.4 points per game form at the right time, as the explosive 6-foot-6 wing scored seven straight points for the Razorbacks to grab back the double figure lead and make it stay for good over the final 5:35. Qualls ignited the crowd with a huge dunk with 5:17 on the clock that made it a 61-49 Arkansas lead.
Qualls finished with 11 points for his team-leading ninth double figure game, while junior Rashad Madden continued his steady play with 12 points. Senior Coty Clarke hauled in a team-high eight rebounds to go along with his seven points.
For the game, Arkansas shot 48 percent (25-52) from the field, while it won the turnover battle for the 15th straight game and 64th time in 75 games under Anderson.
A big highlight in the Razorbacks' defensive effort was limiting South Alabama senior and reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Augustine Rubit to 2-of-8 from the field for eight points. The eight points by Rubit was a season-low, snapping a streak of 10 straight games in double figures. The Jaguars shot just 20-of-57 from the field, while the 20 turnovers were a season-high.
Arkansas will now enjoy a week off from game action for the holidays before returning to Bud Walton Arena to defend its 21-game home win streak against High Point on Saturday, Dec. 28. Tip is slated for 7:05 p.m.