Qualls, Portis Struggle in Conference Opener


COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was wondering how his team would handle its first Southeastern Conference test and got a good indication on the Razorbacks’ first possession Wednesday night.

Forward Bobby Portis, who had gone 21-for-24 from the field in his previous three games, got the ball in the post with a good look at the basket. But he missed the layup.

“Those are the shots he’s been making all year long,” Anderson said.

The short miss was certainly a theme of the night for Portis and the Razorbacks, who suffered a 69-53 loss to the Aggies in their conference opener in Reed Arena. There were plenty of issues on the road once again, but Arkansas’ inability to make layups proved to be the most baffling.

The SEC’s top scoring team seemed to miss again and again, going 8-for-19 on shots around the basket. Arkansas also went 7-for-14 from the free-throw line. So it’s no surprise the Razorbacks were kicking themselves when the game ended.

“It’s very frustrating,” Arkansas forward Coty Clarke said. “We knew we’re capable of putting the ball in the basket in different types of ways. Seeing that, and missing those (layups), and going to the free line, and going up there and missing, that’s like a turnover. Those are things we can fix.”

Portis, who was making his SEC debut, endured some of the biggest problems. The freshman missed his early attempts, struggled in the opening minutes after halftime and finished with 7 points and 7 rebounds on just 3-for-10 shooting. It ended a streak of nine consecutive games in which he had scored in double figures.

“They’ve been at home, and they’ve been making shots,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “They’ve shot it well. But once they went through a streak where they weren’t making shots, they started pressing (Wednesday).

“Portis was trying to put the ball on the floor and do some things that a young guy will do. I just thought they pressed a little bit when they were missing shots.”

Portis wasn’t alone. Leading scorer Michael Qualls had a tougher night.

Qualls went 1-for-12 from the field with seven of his misses coming on layup attempts or putbacks in the paint. He finished with a season-low two points.

Clarke believes some of Qualls’ struggles came because he was playing his first SEC game in a leading role after being a reserve as a freshman. Portis as well.

“I think they were just over-hyped for this game and trying to do it, trying to go get it instead of letting it come to them,” Clarke said. “Just like I told them, it takes time. It takes time. It’s just one game. We’ve got 17 more games to play.”

Jones’ Big Night

Another Arkansas native enjoyed a strong performance against the Razorbacks.

Texas A&M guard Jamal Jones scored 14 points on 5 of 15 shooting to help the Aggies beat the Hogs. Jones, who is from Wynne and attended Searcy High, originally signed with Ole Miss before being dismissed during his freshman season.

Jones played at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, last season and was recruited by Texas A&M and Arkansas. He chose the Aggies and is averaging 10 points a game.

“He was going all around the house saying, ‘I can’t wait to play these guys. It’s my home state. I’ve got to have a good game,’” said Texas A&M guard Fabyon Harris, who is Jones’ roommate. “He was very aggressive. He was trash talking, because they were trash talking to him. He was just focused. It was a very important game for Jamal, because Arkansas is his state.”

Preparation Key

Harris credited Kennedy for making sure the Aggies were prepared for Arkansas’ aggressive defense. Texas A&M held rugged practices in preparation for the opener, where Kennedy encouraged his players to grab and harass ball handlers.

“Davonte (Fitzgerald) would hack me, hack me, hack me, because that’s how Arkansas is going to play,” Harris said. “So we were aware of how they’re going to play. We just played to our pace … We were well prepared. They hack, they grab, they foul, they scratch. That’s how we prepared for them.”

It worked. Texas A&M only had 11 turnovers in the win and the Razorbacks were outscored 17-12 off mistakes. Arkansas had outscored opponents 190-62 off turnovers during its seven-game win streak.

“We didn’t get any stops and we didn’t get any turnovers,” Arkansas guard Ky Madden said. “That hurt us. That’s part of our game. That’s part of our offense, too, getting steals and getting fast-break points.”