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Hogs: Portis finds a way to help team win

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas forward Bobby Portis is bothered so much by losing it makes him cry after games.

So there’s no doubt the freshman has shed his share of tears over the past month with Arkansas struggling through Southeastern Conference play.

But Portis made sure he didn’t have to break down again Wednesday night.

Portis almost single-handedly carried the Razorbacks to a 65-58 win against Alabama in front of an announced crowd of 8,015 in Bud Walton Arena. The Little Rock native set the school’s freshman scoring record on what was an otherwise ugly offensive night for the Razorbacks, putting together a 35-point performance.

It helped Arkansas snap a two-game losing streak and push Portis into the school’s record books. He topped the freshman mark set by former Razorback Scotty Thurman in the 1992-93 season. Thurman — who is now the basketball program’s director of student athlete development — scored 34 points twice that season.

“He had a remarkable performance,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “Credit our guys for understanding he had the hot hand. Boy did we need it.”

Both teams entered the night with four losses in their past five games, leaving Anderson to describe it as a battle between two “desperate” teams. Alabama had the added issue of struggling on the road all season, too, carrying a 0-8 record in games outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala., into Bud Walton Arena.

Arkansas (14-9, 3-6 in SEC) tried to take advantage of it early thanks to Portis. He knocked down two quick jump shots, scored the Razorbacks’ first eight points and helped Arkansas surge out to an 8-1 lead before Alabama (9-13, 3-6) could respond.

“Primarily, it was just confidence in myself to keep shooting it while I was hot,” Portis said. “I was just trying to help my team in any way possible.”

The problem: No other Razorback came close to the same success during a poor-shooting first half. Portis had 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting in the half, while the rest of the Razorbacks combined for just 6 points on a 1-for-23 effort.

“We all realized that Bobby had it going,” Arkansas forward Jacorey Williams said. “I don’t think we realized how cold we were though.”

Fortunately for the Razorbacks, Alabama wasn’t much better.

The teams combined to go 18-for-60 in the first half. But Levi Randolph did give the Crimson Tide a 26-24 halftime lead with a short jumper at the buzzer.

Arkansas fell behind even more early in the second half when Michael Qualls and Fred Gulley missed 3-pointers, extending the rest of the team’s shooting woes to 1-for-25. They eventually went back to Portis and he responded, helping the Razorbacks dig out of a 30-24 hole by knocking down a 3-pointer.

It was the only 3-pointer Arkansas made Wednesday night.

“He was in a rhythm,” Anderson said. “He was in a zone. … It was that kind of night.”

Portis scored 11 straight points for the Razorbacks to help them take a 35-33 lead with 16:29 remaining. It capped a stretch dating back to the first half in which Portis had scored 17 straight points for Arkansas.

Alabama regained the lead a few minutes later when Portis went to the bench for a breather midway through the second half. The Crimson Tide outscored Arkansas 5-2 before Anderson called a timeout to put the freshman back on the floor.

Portis helped Arkansas regain control after returning. But he wasn’t alone.

Alandise Harris played a big role, too, coming back from a one-game suspension to score eight straight points to help the Hogs win. Harris — who had eight points to finish as the team’s second-leading scorer Wednesday — knocked down a jump shot with 7:11 left to give the Razorbacks a 47-46 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Portis eventually helped Arkansas secure the victory by making two free throws with eight seconds left. It also pushed him past Thurman’s freshman scoring record.

“He stepped up big for us just like we always though he could,” Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade said. “He works had every day. So I’m not surprised by what he did tonight. He does it all the time. He works hard. He deserved it. He deserves to touch the ball more. … We needed a boost and a lift of confidence and he provided it.”

Portis went 14-for-17 from the field, while the rest of the Razorbacks combined to go 8-for-40. He also added 9 rebounds and 6 blocked shots.

Portis said several times after the game he didn’t care about the scoring performance, which easily topped his previous best of 19 points. He also said the freshman record didn’t matter, although Portis admittedly planned to kid Thurman.

His only goal was making sure Arkansas ended its losing skid.

“Ever since high school I’ve been winning championships,” Portis said. “I want to win here too. That’s all I want to do is win.”

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