FAYETTEVILLE — Former Arkansas guard Scotty Thurman saw Bobby Portis walking toward his office Thursday afternoon and stopped the freshman.
It was less than 24 hours after Portis set the school’s freshman scoring record, collecting 35 points to lead Arkansas to a 65-58 win against Alabama. It was a mark Thurman had held for 21 years. So he couldn’t let it go easily.
“I acted like I was upset about it and he walked in kind of sheepishly,” Thurman said.
“But then we just started laughing about it.”
Thurman had a front-row seat to Portis’ record-breaking night, watching from the Arkansas bench in his role as the program’s director of student athlete development.
The former Arkansas great, who is best known for his go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute of the 1994 national championship game against Duke, watched Portis almost single-handedly lead Arkansas to a much-needed win.
Thurman didn’t know his record had fallen at the time. But when it happened he felt some relief for one reason: It came in an Arkansas victory.
“I mean, records are made to be broken,” Thurman said. “Obviously we needed the points. For someone who is as classy as Bobby and the type of student-athlete that he is and the type of kid that he is, it couldn’t have happened to a better kid.
“So I’m proud of the fact that he was able to do it and even more excited about the fact it happened in a win.”
Portis’ performance was easily his best as a Razorback.
He scored Arkansas’ first eight points, accounted for 18 of their 24 in the first half and made eight of the team’s nine field goals. While the rest of the Razorbacks went 1-for-23 before the break, Portis went 8-for-10 to keep Arkansas in the game.
It continued in the second half when Portis scored the Razorbacks’ first 11 points to help them battle back from a six-point deficit. He went 14-for-17 from the field, 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, grabbed 9 rebounds and had 6 blocks.
He eclipsed Thurman’s mark with two free throws in the final seconds.
“He finished what he started,” head coach Mike Anderson said. “He started it off and he finished it in the second half knocking down some big free throws going down the stretch.
“Good players want to be in those moments and he knocked down those free throws to put us up and had a big shot with a little swinging hook almost going to the basket with the shot-clock running down. So he was in there and had the chance to make some big plays for us.”
Anderson also said it’s a sign he’s evolving as a player. It wasn’t long ago Portis was struggling to a 3-for-10 performance in the SEC opener against Texas A&M.
Like the Razorbacks, Portis has had his share of good nights and rough ones since then. But Portis believes his 35-point effort against Alabama could serve as a turning point as the Razorbacks try to salvage their season.
“It gives me a big boost for my confidence,” Portis said. “Early on I kind of struggled in SEC play. … Me and (Arkansas assistant Matt Zimmerman) got in the gym and started shooting more and more. Now I think my confidence is at an all-time high.”
Portis refused to say much about the record after the win, saying over and over again the only thing that mattered was an Arkansas win. Thurman — who has known Portis since he was in sixth grade — wasn’t surprised by the message.
Humility, pride, confidence and character are part of Portis’ makeup. So Thurman is convinced Portis’ record-setting night won’t change anything.
“I think he’s obviously doing pretty well with this platform and seems to be taking it all in,” Thurman said. “Even with all the accolades and everything he received prior to coming here. If you just look at the kid and talk to the kid long enough you know none of that stuff has gone to his head. I don’t think that this record is going to be any different.”
Like Portis, Thurman’s freshman records came in wins during the 1992-93 season.
He scored 34 points during a 73-68 win at Missouri on Dec. 19, 1992. Thurman equaled it a few weeks later in a 90-78 win against Ole Miss.
Thurman said he’s proud of Portis for topping the mark with his big performance Wednesday night. But he also has made Portis well aware of both facts as the Razorbacks prepare to play at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
“I told him I did it on the road and I did it twice,” Thurman said. “I still did it twice and I did it on the road. So hopefully that will be something he can do on the road.”