Arkansas forward Bobby Portis celebrates after a Missouri turnover.
Michael Qualls is feeling just fine these days for Arkansas.
And with the explosive forward returning to his high-flying ways, the No. 18 Razorbacks appear well on their way to securing the school’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2008.
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Qualls had 21 points and added to his career highlight reel of dunks, showing he’s fully recovered from a recent knee sprain, and Arkansas (21-5, 10-3 Southeastern Conference) won its fifth straight with an 84-69 victory over Missouri on Wednesday night.
Bobby Portis added 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting, but it was Qualls’ early energy that sparked the Razorbacks to their eighth win in nine games.
The junior has played through a right knee sprain in recent weeks, but he’s now scored in double figures in three straight games — putting the exclamation point on Wednesday’s win with his 26th dunk of the season, the 79th of his career.
"He’s an energy guy," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "And when he plays with that energy, it’s kind of contagious. It spreads throughout our team."
Missouri nearly defeated Arkansas in their first meeting on Jan. 24, missing a pair of free throws in the closing seconds of a 61-60 loss. The Tigers (7-19, 1-12) fell behind during a first half in which they committed 14 of 20 turnovers overall, and they never threatened after that — losing their 12th straight game.
Jonathan Williams and Tramaine Isabell had 13 points each to lead Missouri, which hasn’t won since opening SEC play with a win over LSU on Jan. 8. The losing stretch is the school’s longest since a 12-game losing streak during the 1966-67 season.
"We did a much better job in Columbia of handling their pressure," Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. "… When they get their press going and the crowd going, certainly they’re a good team, but they’re even better. Tonight, they rattled us."
Isabell put the Tigers up 19-16 with a 3-pointer midway through the first half. Led by the resurgent Qualls, Arkansas answered with a 15-0 run to go up 31-19 and take control of the game for good after that.
Qualls had six points during the run, including one of his four 3-pointers in the game. After a five-game stretch in which he was 14 of 59 from the field, the junior is 17-of-34 shooting over his last three games — even though he said his knee is only "85 percent" healthy.
"Every game, I’m trying to be at a better and better stage," Qualls said. "… If I feel like it’s the shot I’m capable of making, I’m going to take it, no matter if I’m hitting it or not. Because I feel like I’m doing an injustice to the team if I turn down those shots, because I can make them at any time."
Missouri finished 26 of 62 (50 percent) from the field, with Montaqu Gill-Caesar and Jakeenan Gant also scoring in double figures with 11 points each.
Arkansas, however, also had 13 points from freshman point guard Anton Beard — helping to keep the Razorbacks in second place in the SEC as they try to reach the NCAA tournament in Mike Anderson’s fourth season as coach.
"We have a long way to go," Portis said. "Even with our record being what it is, every day coach preaches staying humble and hungry."
Missouri: A game after scoring a career-best 27 points against Mississippi State, Williams was 4 of 11 from the field for the Tigers. Missouri was 26-of-52 shooting (50 percent) overall, but it was only 6 of 17 on 3-pointers and committed 20 turnovers.
Arkansas: Former Final Four Most Outstanding Player Corliss Williamson was honored at halftime of Wednesday’s game. Flanked by his family, former teammates and former coach, Nolan Richardson, the current Sacramento Kings assistant coach — who led Arkansas to the Razorbacks only national title in 1994 — had a banner with his name and No. 34 hung inside Bud Walton Arena.
Portis led Arkansas with nine rebounds, including four on the offensive end. The Razorbacks had 12 offensive rebounds overall, leading to 22 second-chance points.
Missouri returns to the road when it travels to Vanderbilt on Saturday.