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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Michael Qualls was all-too familiar with the Northwestern State's potent guard combination of Jalan West and Zeek Woodley, with the three having played on the same AAU team while in high school in Louisiana.
The Arkansas guard saved his best collegiate performance for his former teammates, and the Razorbacks needed every bit of his career-best 28 points in a 100-92 win over the feisty Demons on Sunday.
Qualls, from Shreveport, Louisiana, was 9 of 16 from the field and had 20 points in the second half as Arkansas (10-2) won its fourth straight — doing so while fending off a combined 46 points from West and Woodley.
"He knows all those guys, so it was like a bragging-rights game for him," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said of Qualls.
Qualls' previous best was a 22-point effort earlier this season against North Texas. The junior added seven rebounds on Sunday, and he was aided by the continued dominance of sophomore Bobby Portis — who finished with 22 points and a career-best 12 rebounds.
It was Qualls, however, who carried the Razorbacks as Northwestern State — and his former teammates — closed to within four points several times late in the game.
"Yeah, I knew they weren't going to back down, so it was easy for me not to," Qualls said.
West entered the game leading the country in assists with 8.6 per game, while Woodley was second in scoring with an average of 23.3 points.
With professional scouts in Bud Walton Arena, the duo didn't disappoint.
West finished with 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Demons (4-6), while Woodley had 21 points. Marvin Frazier and Ta'Jon Welcome also had 10 points each, including several highlight dunks as the Demons stayed close in the second half.
In the end, however, Arkansas' 45-32 rebounding advantage — including 22 offensive rebounds and 23 second-chance points — proved too much for Northwestern State to overcome.
"I'm proud of the way Jalan handled himself on the big stage, along with Zeek Woodley," Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy said. "Being able to take the ball and make some things happen. Not just scoring shots, but being able to get other people in the ball game.
The Demons cut the Razorbacks lead to 88-84 late in the game after a pair of free throws by West, but Portis quickly followed with a jumper to put Arkansas back up six. Anthlon Bell then followed with a jumper to put Arkansas up 92-84 and put the wild up-and-down affair out of reach.
Nine players scored for the Razorbacks, who played without freshman guard Anthlon Beard after a minor ankle injury, but it was Qualls who continued to emerge as one of Arkansas' most reliable offensive options this season.
The junior has scored in double figures in all but two games this season, and Sunday was the fifth time he's topped the 20-point mark.
"I think he's expanded his game since high school," West said of Qualls. "He became a better shooter, a better driver and a lot of more stuff to the game. I think he played a great game."
Woodley was 10-of-19 shooting, while West hit all nine of his free throw attempts as he fell three points short of matching his season high of 28 points against Louisiana Tech on Dec. 2.
The Demons jumped out a 7-0 lead after back-to-back baskets by West, and they led 13-12 after another drive by the quick 5-foot-10 guard.
Jacorey Williams then started an 8-0 run for the Razorbacks with a three-point play. Moses Kingsley finished the run with an inside basket to put Arkansas up 20-13, and the Razorbacks never trailed again — though they were unable to put away Northwestern State until the end.
The Razorbacks entered the game third in the country with an average of 19.3 assists. They added to that average with 23 assists on Sunday, including eight from senior Ky Madden — who also had 12 points while hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers.
Portis was 9 of 16 from the field, and the preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection has now scored in double figures in all but one game this season. Either he or Qualls have also led Arkansas in scoring in all but one game.
Northwestern State returns home for its final nonconference game against Louisiana College on Wednesday.
Arkansas is off for the remainder of the year before hosting Utah Valley on Jan. 3 — the Razorbacks final nonconference game before SEC play.
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