FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Anthlon Bell set a career high for the second straight home game, finishing with 28 points as Arkansas pulled away for a 91-71 win over Indiana State in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
The win is the first in the NIT for the third-seeded Razorbacks (22-11) since 1997, the last time the school was in the tournament. It’s also Arkansas’ first postseason win of any kind since a first-round win in the NCAA tournament in 2008.
Bell, who had 23 points in his last home game, had 18 points in 17 first-half minutes to carry Arkansas. Six players scored in double figures for the Razorbacks, and Bobby Portis had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Manny Arop led the Sycamores (23-11) with 12 points, while Dawon Cummings and Jake Odum had 11 each. Khristian Smith also finished in double figures with 10.
Indiana State, which was making its school-record fifth straight postseason appearance, finished second to undefeated Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference this season and had a 9-6 road record, including a win at Notre Dame on Nov. 17.
The Sycamores, however, led only once against the Southeastern Conference Razorbacks — who were still smarting after a two-game swoon to end the regular season that kept them out of the NCAA tournament.
Arkansas led by as many as 18 points in the second half after a 3-pointer by Michael Qualls extended the lead to 54-36, and it never let Indiana State close to within fewer than eight points after that.
The Sycamores closed to 69-61 after a 3-pointer by Odum, but the Razorbacks closed out the game on a 22-10 run.
Arkansas led 37-31 at halftime, thanks in large part to the hot shooing of Bell — who scored 23 points in 12 minutes of action in his last game in Bud Walton Arena against Mississippi on March 5.
The sophomore was 7-of-9 shooting and scored 18 points in the first half on Tuesday, sparking a Razorbacks team that was otherwise 5 of 25 from the field. Bell hit 4 of 6 first-half 3-point attempts and added six rebounds in 17 minutes of action, and he now has 51 points in his last 43 minutes of action in Bud Walton Arena.
Alandise Harris came off the bench to score 13 points for Arkansas, which advances to the second round to face the winner of Wednesday’s Utah Valley State-California game.
Qualls and Ky Madden had 11 points each, while Coty Clarke had 10. The Razorbacks were 8-of-17 shooting on 3-pointers, led by Bell’s 6-of-8 effort from behind the arc.
Other NIT games:
Florida St. 58, FGCU 53
Aaron Thomas scored 22 points as top-seeded Florida State opened the National Invitation Tournament with a win against Florida Gulf Coast, last year’s NCAA tournament darlings.
Gerogetown 77, West Virginia 65
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera had a season-high 32 points and 10 rebounds, and Georgetown won a cozy matchup of former conference rivals.
Belmont 80, Green Bay 65
Craig Bradshaw scored a career-high 25 points and Drew Winkler added 15 as Belmont beat short-handed Green Bay.
Minnesota 88, High Point 81
Maverick Ahanmisi scored a career-high 21 points, leading Minnesota past High Point.
Clemson 78, Georgia St. 66
K.J. McDaniels tied his career high with 30 points and had 14 rebounds to lead Clemson to its 10th straight home NIT win.
Missouri 85, Davidson 77
Jabari Brown scored 30 points and Earnest Ross added 16 to help Missouri hold off Davidson 85-77 in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament on Tuesday night.
Robert Morris 89, St. John’s 79
Karvel Anderson scored 38 points and Lucky Jones added 25 to help Robert Morris beat St. John’s.