Portis, Qualls lead Arkansas past Milwaukee 84-54
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bobby Portis spent much of the offseason working to become more comfortable in a leading role for Arkansas.
The standout Razorbacks sophomore appears to have finally found a reliable wingman in junior Michael Qualls.
Portis and Qualls continued their season-long 1-2 punch by combining to score 35 points in an 84-54 win over Milwaukee-Wisconsin on Monday night. Portis, Arkansas' preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection, led the way with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The 6-foot-11 forward has now scored in double figures in all but one game this season for the Razorbacks (9-2), and he's scored at least 18 points in five straight games. He's also led Arkansas in each of its three straight wins since back-to-back road losses at Iowa State and Clemson.
Portis has plenty of help on Monday from Qualls, who finished with 17 points. One of the two has now led the Razorbacks in scoring in 10 of 11 games this season.
''They're playing a much higher level now,'' Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. ''That's what we've been looking for from Mike; Bobby's been doing it all year long, and now it seems like lately Michael has started picking it up.''
While Arkansas overcame some early shooting woes in the win, the Panthers (5-8) struggled throughout - shooting just 28.8 percent (15 of 52) and committing 19 turnovers.
Matt Tiby led Milwaukee with 15 points, while Steve McWhorter added 13 as the Panthers lost for the fourth time in five games.
''We've been struggling shooting the ball most of the year,'' Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter said. ''... Their length had a little bit to do with that, for sure their length had something to do with that.''
Arkansas didn't fare much better shooting the basketball in the first half, hitting just 13 of 33 shots (39.4 percent). Despite the early woes, the Razorbacks still led by as many as 13 in the half on their way to the comfortable win.
After Cody Wichmann's 3-pointer cut the Arkansas lead to 26-20, the Razorbacks went on a 9-2 run to stretch its lead to 35-22 after an inside basket by Ky Madden - who finished with 15 points.
Milwaukee only closed within single digits once more, pulling within 35-27 to open the second half on a three-point play by J.J. Panoske.
Portis and Qualls then combined to score the next eight points for Arkansas, which led 43-29 after Qualls scored on the fast break and extended the margin to 49-31 on a 3-pointer by Jabril Durham.
''I do feel like me and (Portis) do click well,'' Qualls said.
The Razorbacks finished 30 of 67 (44.8 percent) from the field after the first-half shooting struggles, with Portis finishing 7 of 14 from the field and Qualls 6 of 10.
The two once again provided a perfect combination for an Arkansas team that hopes to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.
''We're just letting the game come to us,'' Portis said. ''I feel like the team needs us to score sometimes, so I feel as though it's our time to do those things at certain points in the game.''
Qualls has scored in double figures in all but two games this season for the Razorbacks. He scored all 15 of his points in the second half of Arkansas' win over Southeast Missouri on Saturday night, and he followed that up with Monday night's perfectly executed supporting role.
Led by Portis' 10 rebounds, Arkansas outrebounded the Panthers 49-29 - including grabbing 17 offensive rebounds that led to 15 second-chance points. Portis had six of the offensive rebounds.
Arkansas, which is second in the country with an average of 19.3 assists per game, had 19 assists on Monday - led by six from Madden. Nine Razorbacks were credited with an assist.
Milwaukee continues its five-game road trip when travels to South Dakota on Saturday.
Arkansas returns from its holiday break to host Northwestern State on Saturday.