FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Bobby Portis promises the Razorbacks had fun in the locker room after their win at Vanderbilt last Saturday.
He said there was dancing. There was other “crazy stuff,” too. But Portis stressed Tuesday the Razorbacks weren’t over exuberant after collecting their first road win of the season, which was the third in three seasons under coach Mike Anderson.
“We celebrated some,” Portis said. “Just a little bit.”
Arkansas cleared what seemed to have become an insurmountable hurdle during its 77-75 win at Vanderbilt last Saturday, collecting a road win for the first time this season. It was just the Razorbacks’ third in three seasons under coach Mike Anderson and the first against an opponent other than Auburn.
It also helped Arkansas (15-8, 4-6 in SEC) cap a 2-0 week after falling to 2-6 in SEC play. So there was reason to celebrate. But Portis and Arkansas forward Michael Qualls said the Razorbacks know it was just one step — albeit an important one — as they work to dig out of the early-season hole.
“It’s not that exciting to me,” said Qualls, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds. “It’s just one game and we’re trying to win many games.”
The Razorbacks insist they’re more concerned about adding to the success when they travel to play at Missouri (16-7, 4-6 in SEC) on Thursday night. If so, Arkansas can accomplish another feat: Winning back-to-back road games since the 2009-10 season, when it beat Ole Miss and Georgia under former coach John Pelphrey.
Anderson believes the Razorbacks are capable of accomplishing it after watching them put together their most complete performance of the season at Vanderbilt. He said the confidence gained could go a long way the rest of the season.
“It gave our guys confidence,” Anderson said. “And basketball confidence is such a big part of the game. It’s such a big mental part of the game. I don’t think it’s about the physical part of it right now. It’s about the mental part as you get ready to go down the stretch here – the confidence and having the energy. That’s really huge.”
Arkansas wasn’t perfect at Vanderbilt, but did more than enough to snap the Commodores’ four-game win streak.
The Razorbacks shot over 54 percent from the field. It was their best shooting performance since knocking down 62.3 percent against SIU-Edwardsville on Dec. 3.
Arkansas also forced the Commodores into 15 turnovers, turning the mistakes into easy baskets. The Razorbacks weren’t beaten badly on the boards, either (28-25).
More important, Arkansas outscored short-handed Vanderbilt 40-2 in bench points.
“I saw everybody that played giving meaningful minutes,” Qualls said. “Everybody that played, they played bigger roles on the road. That’s what we really needed.”
It wasn’t perfect. In fact, Arkansas watched a nine-point lead evaporate after going scoreless over a six-minute stretch late in the game. But Qualls and guard Ky Madden helped the Razorbacks overcome it with big buckets down the stretch.
“I just want them to play good basketball,” Anderson said when asked if a burden was lifted off his team. “This is the time of year you want to play good basketball. And I always tell our guys, if we do the things we’re capable of doing and we play it the right way, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. I thought our guys went and gave everything they had out on that floor. So it ends up we got the win.”
Arkansas had fallen short plenty of times in January. There were overtime losses to Florida and Georgia. Then, there was the late collapse at Tennessee.
Anderson believes the painful experiences helped his team grow.
“Finish,” Anderson said. “I used that word. We finished the win. That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to make plays. You’ve got have stops. We did those things.”
But can it continue?
Portis said Arkansas is carrying confidence after the road win, but acknowledged there is still plenty to be accomplished. So duplicating the feat is the emphasis now as the Razorbacks try to add to their postseason tournament resume.
And celebrate a little more.
“It was good for us to get a road win because, you know, that gave us a ton of confidence to build upon going into this Missouri game,” Portis said.