FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas was a week removed from its big test at No. 3 Michigan, went through final exams on campus, and had emerged to face an opponent far removed from the rough five-game stretch against major conference foes.
So Arkansas coach Mike Anderson knew all the typical signs of a letdown were in place as his team prepared for Alcorn State on Saturday night.
But Anderson wasn’t concerned — and for good reason.
Arkansas cruised to a 97-59 win against Alcorn State in front of an announced crowd of 8,069 in Bud Walton Arena on Saturday night. The Razorbacks (5-4) started strong and never let up, leaning on talent and depth to rout the Bears (2-7).
Forward Marshawn Powell led the way, scoring 18 points to go along with seven rebounds. Thirteen of the 14 Razorbacks who played scored. It included guard Fred Gulley, an Oklahoma State transfer who scored five points in his Arkansas debut.
“You saw guys out there playing the game the right way,” Anderson said. “That looked like Razorback basketball there (Saturday night).”
Arkansas outscored Alcorn State by an average of 112-64 in four previous meetings and Saturday was no different. The only shortcoming: Arkansas had topped 100 points in each of the previous meetings, but just missed the mark.
Both teams shot well from the field early, swapping baskets in the opening minutes. But Arkansas gained some breathing room behind an 18-4 spurt from its bench, which gave the Hogs a 31-16 lead. Then Arkansas buried Alcorn State with a late surge in the half, going on a 22-1 run that helped it take a 53-24 lead at the break.
“That’s a typical Mike Anderson team,” Alcorn State coach Luther Riley said. “We got rattled right there at the end of the first half. All they need is a spark and then they’re going.”
Forward Marshawn Powell played a hand in plenty of highlights during the spurt.
The forward threw a perfect full-court pass to B.J. Young for a transition layup to give the Razorbacks a 44-22 lead. He made a reverse layup a few minutes later, making it 48-22. Powell also knocked down two three-pointers, extending his long-range success.
“We trust him to take those shots,” Arkansas guard Michael Qualls said. “We want him to take those shots. He stretches out the defense, opens up the court.”
Powell scored 12 of his 18 points in the first half and Arkansas shot 59.5 percent in before the break (22 of 37). They were 6-for-10 on three-pointers, getting five different players to knock down long-range buckets in the half.
Arkansas also had 15 of its 24 assists in the first half.
“Our guys were in sync with one another,” Anderson said of the late first half run. “It just seemed like it was the energy with guys out there playing.”
The success continued after the break, when Arkansas built as much as a 42-point lead against the Braves. The 38-point margin of victory was its second-largest this season behind the 49-point win against Longwood on Nov. 18.
Anderson said before the game he thought Alcorn State would serve as a valuable opportunity for his bench Saturday. He especially wanted to see how well his four-member freshman class handled more opportunities against Alcorn State after being limited to 10 scoreless minutes at Michigan last Saturday.
Qualls, Jacorey Williams, Anthlon Bell and Dee Wagner responded by combining to score 29 points on 12 of 28 shooting in 58 minutes against the Bears. Qualls — who had a couple of crowd-pleasing dunks in the second half — led the group with 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block.
“Coach always says he wants stat stuffers,” Qualls said. “If everybody has four assists, four rebounds, four blocks, the game is going to continue to escalate.”
Arkansas’ bench outscored Alcorn State 56-17.
“We wanted to get more guys involved,” Arkansas forward Coty Clarke said. “I felt that we’re showing that and we’re building on that and that’s how everybody was able to get their touches in. That’s a plus for us when we get multiple guys to score. We’re building trust. It’s a positive thing for this team.”
It also signaled a strong start to Arkansas’ final five-game nonconference stretch.
The Razorbacks will play Robert Morris on Thursday night and Alabama A&M in North Little Rock next Saturday before enjoying a Christmas break.
Starters like Powell (19 minutes), Young (5 points in 18 minutes), Mardracus Wade (3 points in 13 minutes), and Rashad Madden (7 points in 12 minutes) should be well rested for the week. The group spent much of the second half rooting on Arkansas’ reserves from the bench during Saturday’s big win.
“A lot of guys played not as many minutes as they will play in games,” Anderson said. “But this game allowed me to get those guys a little more seasoning.”