FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson believes forward Jacorey Williams is one of the most improved players on his roster this season.
The junior showed his coach may be right in Arkansas’ exhibition opener.
Williams led the Razorbacks to a 110-74 win against Central Oklahoma in front of an announced crowd of 5,269 in Bud Walton Arena on Friday night, scoring 16 points off the bench. He was one of six Arkansas players to reach double figures during its first test, teaming with forward Keaton Miles to help the Razorbacks overcome a sluggish start and overwhelm the Division II Bronchos.
"They came out and delivered a punch early on," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "To our team’s credit, our depth, energy guys coming off that bench were really, really huge. … That second group came in and gave us some big minutes."
Williams provided the biggest spark after Arkansas’ starting unit of Portis, Bell, Moses Kingsley, Alandise Harris and Jabril Durham struggled. Anderson has often described the 6-foot-8 Williams as an energy guy and it was evident. He entered the game with Arkansas trailing 17-13 and, along with Miles, helped restore order.
Williams scored 10 points over a 5-minute stretch. His final bucket during the stretch — an impressive two-handed reverse dunk — gave the Razorbacks a 29-26 lead. Williams made one more basket in the half, making a jumper to give Arkansas its first double-digit lead at 45-35 with 2:23 remaining in the half.
"I was just sitting there observing the starters and how they were playing and how the opponent was playing," Williams said. "We came in and adjusted."
Miles was equally important.
The West Virginia transfer got his first action as a Razorback after sitting out last season because of NCAA rules. He grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw, made a layup and finished a 3-point play to give the Hogs an 18-17 lead.
Miles blocked a shot on the other end, made a 3-pointer and also forced a turnover in his first four minutes on the floor. The junior finished with 12 points 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 3 steals in 12 minutes,
"I felt like I was on lockdown for a year," Miles said. "It feels good to be out there and going at it with my teammates and just going out there and competing."
Their work helped Arkansas shake the pesky Bronchos, who kept pace with the Razorbacks much longer than expected largely because of their 3-point success.
"We came out kind of sluggish and we looked at the names on the front of their jersey," said Portis, who finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in 20 minutes. "That’s what happened out there."
Guard Seth Heckart was the biggest nuisance to Arkansas, knocking down four 3-pointers as part of his 16-point performance in the first-half. His first gave the Bronchos the 17-13 advantage, forcing Anderson to call a timeout.
"I better get some guys in there to play some defense," Anderson said. "That’s what I said. … I thought we lost it, especially when you’ve got a guy with a hot hand."
Heckart’s final 3-pointer gave UCO its final lead at 26-25. The Bronchos went 8-for-17 behind the 3-point line in the first half, but Arkansas still managed to build a 49-38 lead behind its bench play.
Anderson didn’t have two of his top players in the backcourt, either, after what he described as some "housekeeping." Qualls and Madden sat on the Razorbacks’ bench the entire half, watching Anderson shuffle 11 others on and off the floor.
They got the green light to start the second half and it didn’t take long for either to make an impact. Qualls knocked down four 3-pointers, went 5-for-5 from the field and led Arkansas with 17 points. Madden had 9 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
"Human nature says you should be (motivated)," Anderson said. "If you didn’t play in the first half, you better get it in the second half. To their credit, maybe that’s a sign, hopefully, of some maturity from our guys coming out and being positive leaders through their play and talking out on the floor."
Heckart, meanwhile, managed just six points in the second half and finished with 22 points. Guard Mahlon Jones also had 22 points for the Bronchos, who shot 41.2 percent (28 of 68) and went 12 of 25 behind the 3-point line.
Arkansas shot 51.9 percent (41 of 79), outscored the Bronchos 37-10 off turnovers, outrebounded them 47-38, blocked 12 shots and had 15 steals. It wasn’t a perfect start by any means, but Anderson said it was good to take the first step as Arkansas moves on to its second exhibition game against Pittsburg State next Thursday.
"We’ve still got some work to do. We’ve still got some growing up to do," Anderson said. "But I like the options that we have. I like the pieces that we have.
"It’s just a matter of them all getting on the same page and doing it for 40 minutes. If we do it for 40 minutes we’ve got a chance to be a special team."