After two very disappointing road losses, Arkansas clearly needed something to happen good against Auburn on Saturday.
The Razorbacks picked the right foe as the struggling Tigers (8-9, 0-6) came into the game having lost 21 of their last 22 SEC games and 15 in a row.
Rashad Madden had a career-high 24 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds, Bobby Portis added 19 points and 9 rebounds and hot-shooting Fred Gulley added 10 points and 4 assists as Arkansas hammered Auburn 86-67 before an impressive 16,752 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
“I tell you what, a good effort by our guys from start to finish,” Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said. “Obviously, we played with great energy...You saw our guys really just leaving everything out on the floor. And that's Razorbacks basketball, when you leave it all out on the floor, that's a great sign.”
Arkansas (13-6, 2-4) shot 65.4 percent from the field (17-of-26) in the second half against the Tigers (8-9, 0-6).
“I thought the second half, the wear and tear was very evident in this game,” Anderson said. “Because I thought we were in attack mode and the thing I was most proud of with our guys, they did a good job of finishing.
“We hadn't finished well in many games, but I thought we were really assertive and aggressive, making the right plays at the right time,” Anderson continued. “Of course, when you make shots, that helps as well.”
Gulley noted that it was a big win for his team.
“We definitely needed this win,” Gulley said. “I think the biggest thing that happened from this win was that we learned from the games that we have been playing. We finished well. It came down to the end of the game and we executed and kept making plays and we kept attacking and that's how we are going to finish from here on out. That's the biggest thing we took from it.”
Auburn head coach Tony Barbee, now 0-7 in his head coaching career against the Razorbacks, saw his team close within five points in the second half before the hosts closed the door hard on the visitors.
“Give Arkansas credit,” Barbee said. “They made shots. They made shots, they made 3s. I thought we were a little inept on the offensive end of the floor on some good looks that we typically make. We couldn't - we made our run but we couldn't just crack through with the easy opportunities that we did miss, from behind the arc and in the paint at the rim.”
Madden was especially brilliant in the second half as he was 4-of-4 from the field, 2-of-2 from 3-point range and 9-of-9 from the free throw line after intermission.
While it was arguably his best overall college game, he noted he would go with best ever.
“I wouldn't say the best I have ever played because I played some great games in high school, but it was a cool game,” Madden said. “My teammates helped me and I made good shots. That is what it takes.”
Gulley was hot as well after halftime – hitting all three of his shots in the second half and scoring 8 of his 10 point during that time as Arkansas shot 65.4 percent (17-of-26) from the field after the break.
Gulley has hit 16 of his last 24 field goal attempts and 7-of-10 3-pointers in a stretch of four games in which he is averaging 10.7 points per game.
“He (Madden) continues to play at a high level,” Anderson said. “His confidence continues to rise each and every game. I just think he and Fred right now, you can just see that combination, they kind of play off each other. Because Fred is playing probably some of his best basketball as well.
“Auburn went to a zone, and you've got to pay attention to details. Those guys are making shots and making the right plays. I think he (Madden) had five assists to go along with the scoring. He's rebounding the basketball, 9 for 9 from the free throw line. He had a great night tonight.”
Gulley noted that he is just trying to be consistent on the floor.
“I think it is confidence,” Gulley said. “I have been a lot more confident playing. My big thing is that I want to be consistent.
“I have been out there, I have been feeling comfortable and my team has been giving me the ball in a position where I can score and can help and create and I have been trying to capitalize on that,” Gulley added.
Portis was the man in the first half with 14 points and 6 rebounds before intermission as he made a concerted effort to play down low after a talk with assistant coach Melvin Watkins.
“I met with Coach Watkins yesterday and Coach Watkins just told me that for us to be successful, I need to go on the block and go to work on the block instead of shooting long twos,” Portis said. “Like today, I just tried to work on that against Auburn. That's pretty much it.”
Anderson noted it was big for Arkansas to have a low-post threat with both Portis and fellow 6-10 freshman Moses Kingsley (7 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block and 1 assist in 13 minutes).
“That was big,” Anderson said. “That's been a point of emphasis with him. He has size, he has agility, he has good footwork. Now he's just got to continue to attack the basket. Most young guys, they're going to settle sometimes, but I thought today he did a good job of attacking and making plays. He was finishing around the basket.”
“Our guys did a good job of finding him there,” Anderson added. “They've got him missing three shots (6-9). I guess two of those shots were probably point-blank shots. That tells you he's getting the ball in high percentage areas, and he's finishing. But he got nine rebounds as well. That's what I really like about what's taking place with him.”
The Razorbacks also got nice efforts from Anthlon Bell (9 points on 3-of-4 shooting), Jacorey Williams (6 points, 3 rebounds in 9 minutes in the first half) and Coty Clarke, who only had 4 points, but had 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
Arkansas, who has now won 25 of its last 26 homes games, will be back at Bud Walton on Tuesday night to host Missouri at 6 p.m.
“We are very confident,” Gulley said. “We have been a confident team all year. Even though we have taken some bumps and bruises along the way, every game has been a good game. So we are ready to play anybody that's next on our schedule and it just happens to be Mizzou.”
Fred Gulley drives to the basket against Auburn's Chris Denson.
Anthlon Bell knocks down one of his 3-pointers.