FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson promised an entertaining game when the Razorbacks played Louisiana-Lafayette.
Arkansas guard Michael Qualls said the Razorbacks got a little more than that in Bud Walton Arena on Friday night.
“We got a reality check,” Qualls said.
Arkansas beat ULL 76-63 in front of an announced crowd of 9,042 in Bud Walton Arena, but the double-digit win wasn’t as easy as it sounded. The Razorbacks (2-0) needed a late 17-3 run over the final six minutes to hold off the Ragin’ Cajuns (2-1).
Forward Alandise Harris led the way with a team-high 19 points, while Qualls added 16 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Their offensive efforts — along with a solid defensive performance on ULL point guard Elfrid Payton in the closing minutes — proved just enough for Arkansas to win its 16th straight game in Bud Walton Arena.
“We were glad to get the win against a very good basketball team,” Anderson said after it was over. “These teams are good when you’ve got a player of that caliber. Give our guys credit. They hung in there and hung in there.”
There were some nail-biting moments. In fact, Arkansas trailed 60-59 with 6:09 left before its final push. Harris — who had been quiet much of the second half after scoring 15 of his 19 points before the break — played the biggest role in the run.
The junior started it with a defensive play, drawing a charge on ULL’s Xavian Rimmer with the game tied at 60-60 with 4:36 remaining. Thirty seconds later, Harris gave Arkansas the lead with a short jumper – his first points of the second half. Harris also blocked ULL forward Kevin Brown’s shot at the rim with 2:49 left, leading to two free throws by Qualls on the other end for a 66-60 lead.
“That’s just part of my overall game,” Harris said. “I’m going to take charges. I’m going to block shots. They keep driving, I have to take a charge or block a shot.”
Said ULL coach Bob Marlin: “I thought he was the difference in the game,” ULL coach Bob Marlin said. “He played extremely well. … I was really impressed with him.”
Arkansas knew it faced a challenge with Payton, who is on the Wooden Award’s preseason top 50 list and also earned a gold medal with Team USA at the under 19 FIBA World Championship. ULL also had a talented big man in forward Shawn Long, who was averaging 26 points, 14.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks entering the game.
Long was never much of a factor because of foul trouble, finishing with 12 points and 5 rebounds in 26 minutes. Payton was a handful, though, living up to the billing by beating the Razorbacks off the dribble repeatedly in the first half.
Payton’s talents led ULL to a surprising 23-14 lead and he had 16 points of his team’s 38 points at the break. Qualls said he made it look effortless.
“Payton was killing us off the dribble,” Qualls said. “It took us three-quarters of the game to realize we need to step in there and take some charges and stop the drive.”
Fatigue and an improved effort from Arkansas’ defense began to catch up with Payton in the second half, though. Coty Clarke and Anthlon Bell stepped in front of Payton to draw charges in the closing minutes. The Ragin’ Cajuns weren’t happy with the calls, though, believing they should’ve been fouls on Arkansas.
“We’re disappointed in those and our staff felt like our guys were in the upper motion, which it’s not supposed to be called a charge,” said Marlin, who received a technical after shaking Anderson’s hand and leaving the court with six seconds left. “It’s supposed to be called a block. They called some charges on them, too, in the first half. I don’t know what they were for the game and it’s probably a tough game to call. But we had five turnovers in the first half guys and we had 20 for the game.
“So all those charges and tough plays down the stretch hurt us.”
Payton finished with a game-high 27 points, but had 9 turnovers in 39 minutes.
“It’s a big disappointment,” Payton said. “We felt coming in we had a good chance of winning this game. … We were right there up until the six-minute mark, but we just couldn’t execute down the stretch. That’s partly my fault.”
Arkansas did in the end, leaning on its depth to polish off another win even though there were some disappointments Friday night.
The Razorbacks shot 50.9 percent from the field, but were just 2-for-13 from 3-point range. Arkansas also committed 16 turnovers to go with its 16 assists.
But the most important stat to Anderson was his team’s 17-3 run to close the game.
“The second half fatigue was a big factor,” Anderson said. “We had one of those spurts right there at the end. You don’t know when it’s coming, but if you can hang around and hang in there eventually it’s going to come.”