FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bobby Portis could hardly leave the Bud Walton Arena court and it had nothing to do with being tired.
He had to stop several times on his way back to the locker room Wednesday night. There were pictures to take with fans, congratulations to soak in after setting Arkansas’ freshman record with 35 points in the Razorbacks’ 65-58 win over Alabama.
Even for player uncomfortable at times with receiving more attention or praise than his teammates, there was no escaping the spotlight for Portis.
And the rest of the Razorbacks were fine with that – especially after watching their freshman standout all but single-handedly carry Arkansas (14-8, 3-6 Southeastern Conference) to a much-needed win.
Portis’ record-setting night, one that’s been expected for much of the season for the former McDonald’s All-American, helped the Razorbacks snap a stretch in which they had lost four of five games. It also came on a night when the rest of his teammates were a combined 8 of 40 (20 percent) from the field and in desperate need of help.
”From start to finish, Bobby had it going,” sophomore Jacorey Williams said. ”And we kept getting it to him. As team players, you’ve got to be a team player and keep getting it to the hot man, and that’s what we did. And he helped us get the victory.”
Whether Portis’ career-best performance, which came on 14-of-17 shooting and included nine rebounds and six blocks, is enough to save the Razorbacks’ slim NCAA tournament hopes has yet to be seen. What is sure is the 6-foot-10 forward provided one of the brightest spots in an otherwise dim season for Arkansas, which travels to Vanderbilt (13-8, 5-4) on Saturday.
”We needed it tremendously,” senior Mardracus Wade said. ”We’ve been struggling here lately, so we needed a boost, just a little lift of confidence, and that’s what he provided us.”
Portis, who leads the Razorbacks in scoring at 13.3 points per game after Wednesday’s outburst, wanted little to do with any talk of personal accolades after his breakout performance – repeatedly saying he didn’t care about the scoring record or scoring in general.
That team-first attitude was nothing new for the player who led his Little Rock Hall team in high school to four straight state championships. Portis, who was clearly the best player on his high school team, often was comfortable serving as a facilitator rather than dominant force.
”I just go with the flow in the game, really,” Portis said. ”If I’m hot, I’m hot. If I’m not, I’m going to do other things to help my ballclub. I really don’t care about scoring; I’m just trying to help my team in any way possible so we can get these wins.”
Portis admitted that Arkansas’ recent string of losses had caused him to break down in tears.
It’s exactly that kind of passion that has made coach Mike Anderson a Portis fan, both during the recruiting process and in their first season together.
”It’s very refreshing,” Anderson said. ”He’s a hungry and humble kid. He wants to be not just a good player; he wants to be a great player.”
Portis scored 29 of Arkansas’ first 35 points against the Crimson Tide, a point at which he was 12 of 15 from the field – while his teammates were a combined 1 of 25. He set the school record for most points in a game by a freshman with a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds remaining, putting the Razorbacks up 63-58 and all but securing the win.
The previous mark was held by Scotty Thurman, who scored 34 points twice during the 1992-93 season – one year before helping the Razorbacks to the school’s only national championship.
Thurman is now a member of Arkansas’ basketball support staff, and he had a front row seat for Portis’ effort. He’s also known Portis since the Little Rock native was in sixth grade, and while he was proud of the performance, he couldn’t help but give the freshman some good-natured grief on Thursday – along with some added motivation.
”I told him I did it on the road; I did it twice,” Thurman said. ”So, hopefully that will be something he can do on the road.”