Once again, the Arkansas Razorbacks looked lethargic to begin a home game, leaving some to wonder if they might suffer an upset or perhaps they're too busy looking ahead to this week's high-profile game at Iowa State. But once again, the Hogs dominated the stretch run of the game to claim what looks in the box score like an easy victory.
This game was a little different because Iona is a pretty good team. In fact, this is one of the better opponents Arkansas will face in Bud Walton Arena this season. They came into the game as ranked 65th in KenPom and aren't expected to lose many games the rest of the season, and will be expected to be an NCAA Tournament team as the favorite in the MAAC.
Also, with the victory, Arkansas apparently wins something called the Roundball Showcase. Iona, Wake Forest, and North Texas were also competing in the event. The Razorbacks did receive a trophy at the end of the game for it. That's about all I know about it. If you'd like to read more on that, here you go. Arkansas did not cut the nets down.
Alandise Harris was out of the game with a foot injury, so some of the lineups were a bit unusual. Jacorey Williams started in his place, but the Hogs started off in a hole because Iona's A.J. English and David Laury combined for 34 points in the first half. English scored 17 in the first 12 minutes. That led to an 8-point hole midway through the first half, but Arkansas went on a 9-2 run that ended with Bell hitting a three to retake the lead.
Iona stayed with the Hogs for several minutes into the second half and even retook the lead as late as 11:15 to go, but as with Arkansas' other games in Fayetteville, that's about the point when Arkansas shut everything down. The Razorbacks took back the lead for good on a three from Anton Beard, which was followed by a pair of layups from Michael Qualls and Beard, and the Hogs were off on a 24-8 run to close out the game.
Qualls had 13 of his 20 points during the run even though he was battling some sort of sickness that prevented him from attending the postgame press conference. Anthlon Bell was also feeling sick, and he also overcame it for a 20-point outburst that included five threes.
Bobby Portis finished with 11 points and 9 rebounds (Qualls also had 9 boards). Rashad Madden had 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Beard and Williams finished with 8 points.
Iona isn't a good rebounding team, and the Hogs were finally able to take advantage of having that edge. They crushed the Gaels on the offensive glass 21-8 and won the overall battle 51-40. That led Arkansas to attempting 83 shots, 11 more than their previous season high and also why the team was able to win despite only shooting 41% (Iona shot 43%).
The win kicks off an extremely important 4-game stretch for the Razorbacks as their next two games are on the road at Iowa State and Clemson before returning to Fayetteville to face Dayton. With the SEC off to a typically disappointing non-conference start, these games could have a major impact on what happens with the Hogs in March. Even if Arkansas earns an NCAA Tournament bid without much struggle, these games could make a big difference in what type of seed the Razorbacks get. They're all teams that could finish in the top 100 and Iowa State in particular have been a highly ranked team early (although they did lose to Maryland in their last game).
It should also be noted that in these Arkansas victories in which the Hogs are dominating the last 10-ish minutes of the game, that's a big improvement from last season. The Razorback too frequently created a big lead and then let their opponents back into games last year. It remains to be seen if that will continue against more quality competition but it's certainly a sign that for right now, the team is playing very well.