FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Anthlon Bell knocked down a 3-pointer on the first possession Monday night, giving the Razorbacks a quick lead.
Fred Gulley added to it with a 3-pointer from the corner the next time down the floor.
Those two buckets were all it took for the Razorbacks to show their struggles from long range against Louisiana-Lafayette wouldn’t continue four days later.
Arkansas leaned on its 3-point success during an 89-78 win against Southern Methodist in front of an announced crowd of 8,927 in Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks — who were 2-for-13 from long range against ULL — went 11-for-22 against SMU to build as much as a 24-point lead before holding on late.
The 11 3-pointers were the most Arkansas has made under coach Mike Anderson, topping the previous best of 10 (which the Razorbacks accomplished it four times last season). It also was Arkansas’ best shooting performance since 2010-11 season, when Arkansas went 11-for-24 from long range against Florida A&M.
“We put in a lot of work over the summer time shooting,” Bell said. “Coach stressed it because we know we can’t just rely on the inside game. We’ve got to have people knock down shots. … We took it upon ourselves to be a better shooting team.”
Bell led Arkansas’ 3-point charge Monday night, going 3-for-7 from long range after putting up an 0-for-4 performance against ULL. But he wasn’t alone.
The Razorbacks scored 15 of their first 21 points behind the 3-point line and made 8 of 14 in the first half. Bell had three of those 3-pointers, but got help from five others (Gulley, Michael Qualls, Kikko Haydar, Jacorey Williams and Ky Madden).
The long-range success helped Arkansas take a 46-30 lead to the locker room, cruising in what was expected to be its biggest test to date this season.
“They were prepared. They made shots,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “When you’re playing with a lead at home, the basket gets huge and we never could put any heat on them until late to make shots difficult. …
“I watched film. They didn’t come out shooting balls like that.”
It continued after the break. Qualls made another 3-pointer in the opening minutes to push Arkansas’ lead to 53-35. Haydar made the 10th a little later to give Arkansas a 62-40 lead with 12:37 left. Qualls made one more with 9:32 left, helping the Razorbacks push the lead back to 22 at 70-48.
“I thought they came out and really set the tempo to the game in the first half and it’s easy to set it when you make shots,” Anderson said. “We made shots, our defense was really charged up, and that enabled us to have a little cushion at halftime. I always tell our guys, when you come back out, the first five minutes are critical and we came out and really continued to establish tempo.”
But the sharp shooting stopped. So did Arkansas’ easy night.
SMU clamped down on Arkansas defensively and went on a 19-4 run of its own over a six-minute stretch, slicing a 22-point deficit down to seven at 74-67.
“We just lost intensity playing like the game was over and it really wasn’t over,” Arkansas forward Alandise Harris said.
The good news for Arkansas is that Harris delivered down the stretch for the second straight night. The junior notched his own 3-point play by driving to the basket, drawing a foul and making a layup with 2:39 left. He knocked down the free throw to give Arkansas some temporary breathing room with a 10-point lead.
“That’s what we brought him for,” Anderson said. “He’s a guy that can make plays, whether it be for himself or others. … When things kind of get stagnant, you’ve got to have someone you can go to, and something that can make something happen.”
SMU cut the Arkansas lead to six when point guard Nic Moore made buckets on consecutive possessions. But guard Mardracus Wade poked the ball away from Moore on SMU’s next trip down the floor and Qualls came up with it. He threw an outlet pass to Coty Clarke, who tossed a lob to Harris for a dunk.
Arkansas was able to hold on the rest of the way.
Harris led Arkansas in scoring for the second straight game, finishing with 21 points on 5 of 12 shooting. He didn’t attempt any 3-pointers, but was perfect from the free-throw line (11-for-11) to lead Arkansas’ 28-for-37 performance.
Qualls turned in another strong all-around night, too, finishing with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Bell added 11 as Arkansas improved to 3-0 for the second straight season and third time in the past four years.
It also helped the Razorbacks extend their Bud Walton Arena win streak to 17 games in the last test before traveling to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.
“Just keep cool,” Qualls said about Arkansas’ demeanor when the game got tight in the second half. “It’s almost like you can be too calm and let it pass or you can be too nervous. You just have to round up your team and say, ‘We are not going to lose. Especially here in Bud Walton. We are not going to lose.’”