NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Bobby Portis and Alandise Harris both scored in double figures during their homecoming Saturday night.
Ky Madden continued his string of offensive success, too, and Michael Qualls provided a handful of late highlights for the Verizon Arena crowd.
But when the Razorbacks desperately needed points in a tight game against South Alabama, they got it from an unlikely source: guard Mardracus Wade.
The senior scored five points during a critical second-half stretch to help the Razorbacks enjoy a 72-60 win in front of an announced crowd of 10,113 in North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena. The production came even though Wade hasn’t played much of a role in Arkansas’ rotation since the Maui Invitation, sitting out twice and logging just 23 minutes over a four-game stretch.
But Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said Wade was ready Saturday night.
“It’s kind of like you’re bleeding and you have to do something to stop the bleeding,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “He stopped the bleeding.”
It didn’t seem like Arkansas (9-2) would need it during much of its annual appearance in North Little Rock.
The Razorbacks started slow, but Anderson simply chalked it up to some jitters from its Little Rock natives. Portis — who received a rousing ovation when he was introduced — eventually settled down and 12 points in the first half. It included nine straight during one stretch that pushed Arkansas’ lead to 14 points.
“It was a great feeling when they called my name out,” Portis said. “I was so pumped up then that at the beginning of the game, I started off slow. I was just too pumped.”
Harris played a key role as well, scoring six in a row earlier in the half. His three-point play gave the Razorbacks the lead at 15-13 and he added a 3-pointer a few minutes later. Arkansas eventually took a 36-27 lead into the locker room.
“I wouldn’t say I was forcing it,” said Harris, who traveled and committed an offensive foul on back-to-back possessions before getting his six points in the first half. “I just feel like I was being aggressive, like he told me to be.”
Madden — who is from East Arkansas — then helped the Razorbacks push it back to double figures early in the second half with a layup that made it 44-32. But that was the end of Arkansas’ success. The Hogs hit an eight-minute drought.
The Jaguars (6-6) outscored Arkansas 11-2 over the span, cutting the lead to 46-43 on two free throws by leading scorer Augustine Rubit. It remained a three-point game over the next minute before Wade made two of the game’s biggest plays.
It started with an offensive rebound off a missed shot by Michael Qualls. Wade was fouled on the putback and made both free throws to give the Hogs a 48-43 lead.
“It was good for him to come back and start playing the way we know he knows how to play,” Madden said. “We needed that (Saturday) from somebody, and Wade stepped up. He’s a senior, he’s a good leader and our team, so it was expected.”
Wade then added Arkansas’ first field goal in a four-minute stretch, knocking down a 3-pointer to push the lead to 52-43 with 7:30 left.
The five points were Wade’s first since Arkansas’ win against Southeastern Louisiana on Dec. 3. The 3-pointer was just his third of the season.
Wade finished with 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 19 minutes.
“He hadn’t played much, and all of a sudden he’s there when it matters,” Anderson said. “That’s the thing I like. He just kind of stood there and waited his turn. Low and behold, he makes two free throws for us, plays tremendous defense, and then hits a big 3-point shot to kind of open the lid up and we got back off and running.”
South Alabama couldn’t get any closer the rest of the game. Leading scorer Michael Qualls — who had two points at halftime — made sure of it by scoring six over the final six minutes. It included a one-handed dunk over Rubit to make it 61-49.
Portis finished with a team-high 15 points in his first Central Arkansas game as a Razorback. Madden scored 12 points, reaching double figures for the fifth straight game. Harris added 10 points as the Razorbacks shot 48.1 percent in the win.
Meanwhile, the Razorbacks held Rubit to eight points, which was 10 below his season average. Arkansas forced South Alabama into 20 turnovers, outscored the Jaguars 22-10 off the mistakes and blocked eight shots in the win.
“It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but we found a way to win,” Anderson said. “I thought our energy on defense was the difference in the game.”
It helped the Razorbacks enjoy their second straight win in Verizon Arena after a recent history of struggles in Central Arkansas. It also helped Arkansas take a five-game win streak into its short Christmas break.
The Razorbacks won’t be back on the court until next Saturday, when they play High Point in Bud Walton Arena.
“It was a good for us to just come back and get a win in front of the Little Rock fans,” Madden said. “They don’t really get a chance to see us often, so we got a win. It’s good to get a win and go home for a little break, too.”