FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson wanted the Razorbacks to show him they were ready for Southeastern Conference play on Saturday night.
A 35-point win in the final nonconference tune-up was enough evidence for now.
Arkansas started slow, but overwhelmed Delaware State during an 86-51 win in front of an announced crowd of 9,183 in Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks, who had played only three games since Dec. 20, looked sharp in extending their win streak to five games against a team a few days removed from a solid win at Marshall.
Guard BJ Young led the way with 19 points, but Arkansas got plenty of contributions from the rest of its roster. All 12 scholarship players available — forward Coty Clarke missed the game because of a family emergency — scored. It included freshman Anthlon Bell, who got 12 points on a season-high four 3-pointers.
“It was a good way for our guys to end the nonconference schedule,” Anderson said.
Arkansas (9-4) trailed 8-4 in the opening minutes thanks to some erratic possessions on the offensive end. But it didn’t take long for Young and the Razorbacks to settle in and cruise against Delaware State (6-9).
The sophomore helped Arkansas take control of the game, scoring 10 quick points during a 16-0 run to take a 20-8 lead. The bench didn’t ease up when the starters left the court for a break, pushing the lead to 27-10 on a Michael Qualls’ dunk.
Arkansas outscored Delaware State 39-10 after its early deficit and held a 43-18 halftime lead. The 18 points allowed was a season best for the Hogs, who held the Hornets to two points during one seven-minute stretch in the half.
“The bench came out with a lot of energy,” forward Jacorey Williams said. “We trapped more ball screens and got into guys a little bit. So it was hard for them to run their offense. It kind of messed up everything for them on the offensive end.”
Said Delaware State coach Greg Jackson: “Their pressure did not allow us to get into any type of offensive rhythm.”
Anderson said it was a confidence-building performance. Especially for his bench, which scored 41 of Arkansas’ 86 points. Qualls (7 points, 5 rebounds) and Williams (4 points, 2 rebounds) helped fill Clarke’s role while he dealt with the family emergency. Bell, meanwhile, turned in his best performance in weeks.
He made three straight 3-pointers in the first half and went 4-for-6 behind the line against Delaware State. Bell had been just 2-for-11 in his previous five games.
“It’s critical for us to come off the bench and knock shots down,” Anderson said. “I’ve seen him do it in high school and AAU ball. (Saturday night) we saw him in rhythm. Guys did a good job of getting the ball to him. He was out there for significant minutes and that helps as well. That’s going to be needed.”
Bell helped Arkansas equal its season-high in 3-pointers (10-for-19) against the Hornets. The Razorbacks got No. 10 from walk-on Charlie Henderson, who was the 13th and final Arkansas player to score in the blowout win Saturday night.
The Hogs set or tied three other season bests in the win. They shot a season-high 58.2 percent (32-for-55) and allowed a season-low 51 points. And, one game after committing 26 personal fouls, Arkansas equaled a season-low with just 13.
Anderson is hopeful the performance now carries into conference play.
The competition during Arkansas’ five-game win streak hasn’t been anywhere close to the level of opponents the Razorbacks played during a 1-4 stretch earlier this season. But Bell believes the entire body of work — including the losses to Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona State and Syracuse — has helped strengthen the Hogs.
“I feel like we’re growing as a team,” Bell said. “We took a couple bumps in those non-conference games earlier in the season, but I feel like everybody has grown and our defense has gotten better. I feel like we’re better for the conference play.”
The Razorbacks will get their first test on the road against Texas A&M on Wednesday night. It’s the first part of the 18-game conference season that will determine whether Arkansas is an NCAA Tournament team.
“If we can continue do this and rebound the basketball and create havoc with our defense, we’ll have a chance in a lot of games whether it be here or on the road,” Anderson said.