NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Bobby Portis and Alandise Harris both scored in double figures during their homecoming Saturday night.
Ky Madden continued his string of offensive success, too, and Michael Qualls provided a handful of late highlights for the Verizon Arena crowd.
But when the Razorbacks desperately needed points in a tight game against South Alabama on Saturday night, they got it from an unlikely source: Mardracus Wade.
The senior scored five points during a critical second-half stretch to help the Razorbacks enjoy a 72-60 win in front of an announced crowd of 10,113 in North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena. The production came even though Wade hasn’t played a big part of Arkansas’ rotation since the Maui Invitational, sitting out twice and logging just 23 minutes over a four-game stretch.
But Anderson said Wade remained ready and delivered Saturday night.
“It’s kind of like you’re bleeding and you have to do something to stop the bleeding,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “He stopped the bleeding.”
It didn’t seem like Arkansas (9-2) would need it during its annual appearance in North Little Rock.
The Razorbacks may have started slow, but Anderson chalked it up to some jitters from its Little Rock natives. But Portis — who received a rousing ovation when he was introduced — eventually settled down and 12 points in the first half. It included nine straight during one stretch to pushed the lead to 14 points.
“It was a great feeling when they called my name out,” Portis said. “I was so pumped up then that at the beginning of the game, I started off slow. I was just too pumped.”
Harris played a key role as well, scoring six in a row earlier in the half to help Arkansas take a 36-27 lead into the locker room.
“I wouldn’t say I was forcing it,” said Harris, who traveled and committed an offensive foul on back-to-back possessions before getting six points. “I just feel like I was being aggressive, like he told me to be.”
Madden — who is from east Arkansas — then helped the Razorbacks push it back to double figures early in the second half with a layup that made it 44-32. But that was the end of the success for an eight-minute stretch.
The Jaguars (6-6) outscored Arkansas 11-2 over the span, cutting the Arkansas lead to 46-43 on two free throws by leading scorer Augustine Rubit. It remained a three-point game over the next minute before Wade grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws to push the lead to 48-43.
“It was good for him to come back and start playing the way we know he knows how to play,” Madden said. “I feel like we needed that tonight from somebody, and Wade stepped up. He’s a senior, he’s a good leader and our team, so it was expected.”
Wade added Arkansas’ first field goal in a four-minute stretch on the next possessions, knocking down a three-pointer to push the lead to 52-43 with 7:30 left.
It was his first points Wade had scored since Arkansas’ win against Savannah State on Dec. 3. The three-pointer was just his third of the season.
“He hadn’t played much, and all of a sudden he’s there when it matters,” Anderson said. “That’s the thing I like. He just kind of stood there and waited his turn. Lo and behold, he makes two free throws for us, plays tremendous defense, and then hits a big three-point shot to kind of open the lid up and we got back off and running.”
South Alabama couldn’t get any closer the rest of the game. Leading scorer Michael Qualls — who had two points at halftime — made sure of it by scoring seven over the final six minutes, including a one-handed dunk over Rubit.
Portis — who was introduced as a starter to a rousing ovation — scored 15 points in his first central Arkansas game as a Razorback. Madden finished with 12 points, reaching double figures for the fifth straight game. Harris added 10 points as the Razorbacks shot 48.1 percent in the win.
Meanwhile, the Razorbacks held Rubit to eight points, which was 10 below his season average. Arkansas forced South Alabama into 20 turnovers, outscored the Jaguars 22-10 off the mistakes and blocked eight shots in the win.
“It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but we found a way to win,” Anderson said. “I thought our energy on defense was the difference in the game.”
It helped the Razorbacks enjoy their second straight win in Verizon Arena after a recent history of struggles in Central Arkansas. It also helped Arkansas take a five-game win streak into its short Christmas break.
The Razorbacks won’t be back on the court until next Saturday, when they play High Point in Bud Walton Arena.
“It was a good for us to just come back and get a win in front of the Little Rock fans,” Madden said. “They don’t really get a chance to see us often, so we got a win. It’s good to get a win and go home for a little break, too.”