NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Too bad that South Alabama’s Mychal Ammons is only 6-foot-6 and teammate Augustine Ribot is only an inch taller. Simply put, they are not tall enough to provide a legitimate read on Arkansas’ 6-foot-10 freshmen Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley.
Seen for the first time in person Saturday night, Portis and Kingsley look the part of big men who can contribute nightly in the Southeastern Conference. Not that I want to throw cold water on Arkansas’ 9-2 start — soon to be 11-2 — but I thought Arkansas’ offensive line was pretty good in September and then watched Bret Bielema’s staff replace two of the starters before Arkansas entered SEC play.
Even though South Alabama’s only good-sized player did not get in the game, Portis and Kingsley are willing and able to run the court and their willingness to contest shots is like saying Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins run hard.
Reviewing the halftime box score and how Arkansas got to 36-27, I wondered when coach Mike Anderson would have Portis and Kingsley on the floor together for meaningful minutes. Maybe, he will wait until Kentucky comes to Fayetteville on Jan. 14.
Portis, who played high school ball on the Little Rock side of the Arkansas River, received the biggest ovation when the starting lineup was introduced and his contributions are easy to document. Although Kingsley has improved dramatically since practice began two months ago, he is more about accomplishments to come.
In the first half, Portis made all of five of his field goal attempts — a couple of them crept over the rim after he maneuvered along the baseline — and scored 12 points in 13 minutes. I also liked the fact that he knew he needed a rest and asked to come out with less than a minute until intermission.
Seven of Kingsley’s nine minutes were in the first half and he made his only field goal attempt — a 3 dictated by the shot clock. But, he blocked a couple of shots and challenged others. Back to back, he contested one in close and then ran hard at a 3-point shooter. At 230 pounds, he is intimidating.
At 240 or so next year, he will be more so.
Poor shooting during the first 12 minutes of the second half offset the good work Portis and others did during the first 20 minutes. In the first half. Arkansas made 14-of-28. At the 7:59 mark of the second half, the Razorbacks were 4-of-16 and only led 46-43. The Jaguars closed the gap after Michael Qualls missed the front end of a one-and-one, Rashad Madden committed an offensive foul, and Qualls turned it over.
Qualls played through his mistakes. His stop-and-go drive upped the lead to 56-47 and the Jaguars misfired on an inbounds pass. With the ball in the corner, Anderson called a quick timeout. Alandise Harris’ pass to Qualls led to an in-your-face dunk, sort of like the one featured on page six of Arkansas’ pregame notes.
I believe that one over SIU-Edwardsville was No. 4 on ESPN’s Top 10 plays. Another Qualls’ dunk in the final 30 seconds was just for show and set the final score at 72-60.
Now 6-6, South Alabama is not great, but the Jaguars competed hard and rebounded surprising well, hanging in much longer than expected.
Better with the team concept than they were last year, the Razorbacks are still a big question mark. For starters, the 3-point shooting is erratic — 10-of-21 sandwiched between 5-of-19 on Dec. 12 and 5-of-17 on Saturday.
In addition, who takes and makes the must-have 3 or both ends of a one-and-one with Arkansas ahead by one with seconds to play? Answers coincide with SEC play.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.