If you were worried Arkansas might spend one of these last four games sleepwalking against a lesser opponent, that's what Sunday's game against Northwestern State felt like - at least on defense.
Fortunately, the Razorbacks were good enough on offense to score 100 points, but they allowed the Demons to score 92 and keep the game in question much longer than it probably should have been.
Most of Arkansas' big offensive output was courtesy of, once again, Michael Qualls and Bobby Portis. The duo combined for 50 of the team's 100 points with Qualls putting up a career-high 28. Ky Madden had 12 points with 8 assists and Jacorey Williams also had 12 points. The team didn't get as much help as they usually do at home from the bench, which only contributed 17 points.
Part of the reason for that is that Anton Beard didn't play. Beard suffered an ankle injury in the team's first practice back from Christmas and was held out against the Demons. It doesn't sound like too big of an issue as the team seems to expect him back soon, but his presence as a defender in the backcourt was definitely missing Sunday afternoon.
Arkansas couldn't slow down the Demon's backcourt combo of Zeek Woodley and Jalan West, who combined for 46 points. It's not unusual for them to play well, Woodley is the nation's 2nd-leading scorer at 23.3 points per game and West has scored 19, 21, and 28 points in his previous three outings.
But still, Arkansas still should have been able to hold Northwestern State to fewer than 92 total points. That's their season-high for points scored. They beat the Hogs 19-12 in fast break points, and was just under the Hogs in 2nd chance points 23-21 despite having 10 fewer offensive rebounds than the Razorbacks did. The Demons came into the game as one of the better teams in the nation at not turning the ball over, and they were able to keep the Hogs from forcing turnovers at their usual rate. They only gave the ball away seven times, only the second time the Hogs haven't forced at least 11 this year, and it clearly had an impact on the team's ability to slow them down.
Part of this may be due to a bad matchup for Arkansas (they came into the game shooting 50.9% inside the arc, a place Arkansas has struggled at times defensively this season), but a look at Northwestern State's resume won't make anybody feel better. Three of their four wins have come against Division II schools including Lyon College, and in the season opener lost to Texas A&M by 41 points. However, the Demons have been playing better since then, including defeating Louisiana-Lafayette in their last game before facing the Razorbacks.
The Hogs had a 12 point lead early in the second half, but never could put the Demons away. They cut the lead to four points several times down the stretch but Arkansas kept them from getting closer. The Razorbacks seemed to have a knack for coming up with a big play whenever they needed it, and they needed a few of them to avoid joining the group of basketball teams with awful home losses on their resume.
Arkansas mercifully only has one more lesser non-conference game before SEC play begins, and it comes next weekend against Utah State. The Hogs will likely spend the week focusing on defense again in order to make that game a bit smoother than this one was.
Then the real fun of SEC play finally begins.