GAME NOTES: The Arkansas Razorbacks will attempt to stay perfect on their current homestand Thursday night, as they welcome the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks to Bud Walton Arena for a non-conference bout.
Although UTM's season record is far from impressive (5-8), it has righted the ship in recent weeks after a brutal start to the campaign. The Skyhawks have gone 3-0 in December, most recently taking down Presbyterian on the road on Monday night, 73-70.
Arkansas is in the midst of a season-long seven-game homestand and opened it up with three straight victories over Southeastern Louisiana (111-65), Clemson (74-68) and Savannah State (72-43) to improve to 7-2 on the season. The Razorbacks enjoy one of the best homecourt advantages in the country, as they have lost just one game at home since the start of the 2012-13 campaign.
The Razorbacks have beaten the Skyhawks on both previous occasions, with the last win coming on Dec. 3, 1992, 90-69.
The Skyhawks appeared down for the count late in their most recent game, as they trailed Presbyterian by six with under four minutes to play, but they ended the contest on a 15-6 run, with Terence Smith's 3-pointer with 21 seconds left proving to be the game-winner. The team's success from beyond the arc was a theme on the night, as it drained 12-of-26 from long distance, with Mike Liabo (6-of-11) having a field day from 3-point land off the bench on his way to 20 points. Smith was also outstanding in the triumph with 19 points and five assists, while Marshun Newell added 18 points.
Unfortunately for UTM, impressive offensive performances have come few and far between this season, as it shoots just 40.6 percent from the field for 71.8 points per game. To make matters worse, its opponents make nearly 51 percent of its field-goal attempts for 77.8 points per game. Myles Taylor (15.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and Liabo (15.3 ppg) are the catalysts. Smith (13.8 ppg) and Newell (12.0 ppg) are solid even though both shoot less than 38 percent from the floor.
Although the Razorbacks had a rather modest shooting performance their last time out (.435) and were borderline dreadful at the foul line (13-of-26), they still cruised to a 29-point victory by forcing Savannah State into just 31.4 percent shooting and 19 turnovers. Rashad Madden was nearly flawless en route to 21 points, shooting 8-of-11 from the field, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range. Bobby Portis tallied a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Coty Clarke narrowly missed one with eight points and 10 boards.
Arkansas is a prolific offensive team, as it ranks 20th in the nation in scoring with 85.1 points per game, doing so on 47.7 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc. It has also made a habit of dominating the takeaway battle, sporting a +5.7 turnover margin. Michael Qualls (14.8 ppg), Alandise Harris (12.4 ppg) and Portis (11.3 ppg) are all in a similar mold, as each grabs at least 4.9 rebounds per game and shoots 50 percent from the floor, while Qualls adds a 3-point element to his game (15-of-30). Madden rounds out the double-digit scorers with 10.1 points per game.
Despite the Skyhawks' recent surge, they have not faced a challenge as difficult as heading into Bud Walton Arena, where the high-scoring Razorbacks have been infallible. Arkansas should have no problem dismissing UTM in this one for its fourth straight win.
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