Arkansas gets balanced scoring attack in NIT win over Indiana St.
Anthlon Bell has certainly found his shooting touch in Bud Walton Arena.
The Arkansas sophomore’s latest career night, his second straight at home, sparked the Razorbacks to a 91-71 win over Indiana State in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
Bell set a career high with 28 points, an effort that followed a previous-best 23-point effort in a win over Mississippi on March 5, and he finished 11 of 13 from the field in helping the Razorbacks (22-11) win their first NIT game since 1997 — the last time the school was in the tournament.
It’s also Arkansas’ first postseason win of any kind since a first-round win in the NCAA tournament in 2008.
"It surprised me, too," Bell said of his last two home games. "I owe it all to the offense … People are looking for me."
Six players scored in double figures for the Razorbacks, who advance to the second round to face the winner of Wednesday’s Utah Valley State-California game.
None were more critical than Bell, who had 18 points in 17 first-half minutes to carry Arkansas in his 13th start of the season. The Razorbacks were 8-of-17 shooting on 3-pointers, led by Bell’s 6-of-8 effort from behind the arc.
"It’s his time," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "We were going to play a team that I thought was going to pack their defense. And you’ve got to have somebody that can knock some shots down, and he’s a guy that capable of doing that."
Manny Arop led the Sycamores (23-11) with 12 points, while Dawon Cummings and Jake Odum had 11 each. Khristian Smith also finished in double figures with 10.
Indiana State, which was making its school-record fifth straight postseason appearance, finished second to undefeated Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference this season and had a 9-6 road record, including a win at Notre Dame on Nov. 17.
The Sycamores, however, led only once against the Southeastern Conference Razorbacks — who were still smarting after a two-game swoon to end the regular season that kept them out of the NCAA tournament.
"I was a little concerned, to say the least," Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. "I think they’re an NCAA team for sure … They wore us down a little bit in the second half."
Arkansas led by as many as 18 points in the second half after a 3-pointer by Michael Qualls extended the lead to 54-36, and it never let Indiana State close to within fewer than eight points after that.
The Sycamores closed to 69-61 after a 3-pointer by Odum, but the Razorbacks closed out the game on a 22-10 run.
"They’re one of the best teams we played all year," Odum said. "… They wore us down. They grinded on us, and they earned it."
Arkansas led 37-31 at halftime, thanks in large part to the hot shooing of Bell — who scored 23 points in 12 minutes of action in his last game in Bud Walton Arena against Mississippi on March 5.
The sophomore was 7-of-9 shooting and scored 18 points in the first half on Tuesday, sparking a Razorbacks team that was otherwise 5 of 25 from the field. Bell hit 4 of 6 first-half 3-point attempts and added six rebounds in 17 minutes of action, and he now has 51 points in his last 43 minutes of action in Bud Walton Arena.
Alandise Harris came off the bench to score 13 points for Arkansas, while Bobby Portis added 10 points and 13 rebounds. Qualls and Ky Madden had 11 points each, while Coty Clarke had 10.
The Razorbacks, who exited the SEC tournament with an opening loss to South Carolina, are now 51-6 in three seasons at home under Anderson.
"You always, as a coach, wonder how your guys are going to respond," Anderson said. "And our guys came out with I thought tenacious energy on defense."