FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said early in the preseason it wouldn’t be wise to label forward Bobby Portis as the “savior” of the program.
The freshman’s first exhibition game showed there’s plenty of potential, though.
Portis enjoyed a solid debut during the Razorbacks 99-82 win against Missouri Southern in front of an announced crowd of 5,323 in Bud Walton Arena. The 6-foot-10 Portis finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes, collecting most of his production in the first half (11 points, 10 rebounds) on Friday night.
“He brings something to our team that we didn’t have,” Anderson said. “A guy his size that has a tremendous basketball IQ. He’s got a magnet for the ball.”
Portis was one of five Razorbacks to score in double figures in the opener. Forward Coty Clarke led Arkansas with 14 points, while Anthlon Bell (13), Kikko Haydar (11) and Alandise Harris (10) also reached double figures.
But Portis was the main attraction in his first exhibition game. The McDonald’s All-American didn’t find out he was in the starting lineup until just before tipoff and handled the role well in a frontcourt that included Clarke and Harris.
“I was surprised I got the start tonight because I’m a freshman,” Portis said. “I know that Coach Anderson doesn’t really start freshmen. … (But I’m) never nervous.”
Portis made a 3-pointer in the first half, knocked down mid-range jumpers and played well around the rim. He scored four of his points in the paint late in the half, helping the Razorbacks go on a late spurt to take a 20-point lead to the locker room.
He didn’t match that production in fewer minutes during the second half, but his debut was more than enough to make an impression.
“I think he’s awfully good,” Missouri Southern coach Robert Corn said. “He’s a guy that can step out on the floor and shoot the basketball, which really presents a lot of problems. … He can step out there and shoot the 3 and he can score on the inside. He’s long. He’s a very, very talented player.”
But Anderson said Portis isn’t alone. He believes that type of versatility runs throughout his 2013-14 team and said it must be one of Arkansas’ strengths.
He wanted to see what the trio of Portis, Harris and Clarke could accomplish together and penciled them into the starting lineup Friday. Harris said it was a surprise since they hadn’t even practiced together. But the three didn’t disappoint, combining to score 37 points and grab 22 rebounds against Missouri Southern.
The rebounding total included 12 offensive boards. Freshman Moses Kingsley added six more (seven total). Arkansas outrebounded Missouri Southern 48-35.
“They were active,” said Anderson, who believed fatigue set in for the big men as the game wore on. “They’ve got to have the mindset that every shot is a miss so they can go and rebound the basketball. Use their versatility to their advantage. So that’s a positive there when you talk about offensive rebounding.
“Now we’ve got to take that same attitude on the defensive side of the board and make teams shoot tough shots.”
Arkansas’ largest lead was 25 points during an exhibition opener that gave Anderson a chance to get a good look at his roster. Eleven of the 13 players available scored and Arkansas shot 45.7 percent (32-of-70) from the field and — after starting 5-for-7 from three-point range — finished 9-of-24 behind the stripe (37.5 percent).
Arkansas did play without guard Ky Madden, who has been suspended for both exhibition games and the opener because of a violation of team rules. But Anderson said it was an opportunity for others like Rickey Scott and Kikko Haydar to fill in while Madden — who sat on the bench — began to serve his punishment.
“You always want to have all your guys on board,” Anderson said. “But if one guy’s not there, the next guy has got to step up and come in.”
The Razorbacks will be on the court again for their second exhibition game on Tuesday night, playing Northeastern State in Bud Walton Arena. It will be Arkansas’ last tune-up before opening the season against SIU-Edwardsville next Friday.
“I feel like it just shows what we need to work on later on down the road,” Bell said about the exhibition opener. “We need more pressure on defense. We probably need to work on a little bit of rebounding. Just come out and work hard every day.”