FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ sputtering offense in the first half might have allowed Northeastern (Okla.) State to stay within reach a little bit longer than the Razorbacks expected.
Coty Clarke and Anthlon Bell then took matters into their hands Tuesday night. The two scored Arkansas’ first 12 points of the second half and set the tone for an 81-54 exhibition victory over the NCAA Division II school in Bud Walton Arena.
Clarke scored six points in the first three minutes, and his basket with 17:21 remaining gave Arkansas a 41-30 lead. The Razorbacks’ lead never dipped below double digits again. Clarke gave them their biggest lead when his jumper made the score 78-48 with 53 seconds left.
“It was a matter of concentration,” Clarke said. “We were stagnant in the first half. We were worried about making plays.”
That focus was evident in the second half. Arkansas connected on 19 of 32 (59.4 percent) shooting in the final 20 minutes, compared to only 12 of 39 (30.8 percent) in the first half.
The Razorbacks also did it with defense, forcing the RiverHawks into 22 turnovers and out rebounding them by a 48-35 margin.
“I thought our guys came out in the second half with focus and energy,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “We changed the lineup a little bit, and the guys came out and responded to the challenge at halftime.
“The first half, I thought we were stagnant. We were playing the game at their pace. I thought, on offense, we were settling for jump shots.”
Clarke, who finished with a game-high 16 points to lead three Razorbacks in double figures, gave Arkansas a quick 13-5 lead. The Razorbacks, however, managed only 20 points after that and took a 33-26 cushion into the locker room at intermission.
Northeastern State used Arkansas’ shooting woes to its advantage. The RiverHawks pulled within 27-24 on Bryton Hobbs’ free throw with 3:47 before halftime, the Razorbacks countered with the next six points and led 33-24 when Michael Qualls drove the baseline and dunked the ball.
The nine-point margin matched Arkansas’ biggest lead of the half before Michael Harmon’s jumper pulled Northeastern State within seven at halftime.
“It’s so easy to get rattled,” Qualls said. “When you’re not hitting shots, you get frustrated and you try to overcompensate and do stuff you’re not adjusted to doing.
“I’m proud of these guys for keeping their heads up and doing what they do. You just have to keep playing through.”
Bell finished with 15 points, while Alandise Harris had 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds for Arkansas. Keon Littleton had 14 points and Harmon chipped in 10 for Northeastern State.
The Razorbacks turn their attention to their season opener Friday night when they host Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in nonconference action.