Ky Madden helped turn Arkansas' first-half angst into a runaway birthday win for coach Mike Anderson.
Led by Madden's career-high 21 points, the Razorbacks — who struggled mightily with leading scorer Michael Qualls on the bench in the first half — pulled away in the second half for a 72-43 win over Savannah State on Thursday night.
The win was the 20th straight at home for Arkansas (7-2), and it came on Anderson's 54th birthday.
"I told my guys my birthday wish was, first of all, to get a (win), and they got that," Anderson said. "... It wasn't easy looking at that first half."
Freshman Bobby Portis finished with 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds, but it was Madden who kept the sluggish Razorbacks in the game in a first half when they shot just 35.7 percent (10 of 28) and led 27-25 at halftime.
The junior, whose previous career-best was a 15-point effort against Grambling State in 2011, followed up a 14-point performance in a win over Clemson with an 8-of-11 shooting performance — helping Arkansas outscore the woeful Tigers (2-9) 45-18 in the second half.
It was the fifth time in six games Madden, who was suspended for Arkansas' two preseason games and for the season opener, has scored in double figures. He hit 4 of 5 3-pointers in the Razorbacks' last game, a win over Clemson, and he connected on 3 of 4 from behind the arc on Thursday night.
"I just think it's confidence," Madden said. "... It was real good, just confidence that's built knowing I can carry it over from one game to the next. Hopefully I can just continue doing it and carry it over to the next game."
Alante Fenner and Deven Williams led Savannah State, which has now lost seven straight games, with 10 points each.
The Tigers were just 16 of 51 (31.4 percent) from the field, and they were out-rebounded 48-35 by Arkansas.
"I kind of knew that we could hang with them for a few minutes, but just the relentless pressure that (Anderson) puts on you, and just wearing you down, that's basically what he did," Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax said. "He wore us down, and he made us feel uncomfortable."
Arkansas entered the game leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring with an average of 86.8 points per game, but struggled mightily to shake Savannah State in the first half.
With Qualls on the bench in the first half because Anderson said he was late to a team practice, the Razorbacks led just 27-25 at halftime. Without Madden's 6-of-7 shooting in the half, the rest of Arkansas' players were just 4 of 21 from the field.
"I think we took them lightly because it's Savannah State," Portis said.
The Razorbacks' previous low for points in the first half was a 31-point effort in a loss to Gonzaga. The Zags were ranked No. 11 at the time, while Savannah State entered Thursday night on a six-game losing streak — and with wins this season only over Tennessee Temple and Florida National.
Even with Qualls back to begin the second half, the Tigers trailed just 31-29 early in the second half after an alley-oop dunk by Hikeem Champaigne.
Arkansas followed with a 17-4 run, capped by an inside basket by Rickey Scott, to go up 48-33 — finally taking control of the game for good and overcoming a 13-of-26 shooting performance at the free throw line.
The Razorbacks finished with 10 blocked shots, including a career-high five from freshman center Moses Kingsley, and they forced 19 turnovers by Savannah State.
Qualls, who entered the game averaging 15.8 points per game, finished with seven points in the second half.
"I thought when (Qualls) came in the second half, the energy went up drastically," Anderson said. "... There was a lot of things that were going a different direction, but our guys kind of hung in there until we got a great run going in the second half."