The Arkansas sophomore’s latest career night, his second straight at home, sparked the Razorbacks to a 91-71 win over Indiana State in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
Bell set a career high with 28 points, an effort that followed a previous-best 23-point effort in a win over Mississippi on March 5, and he finished 11 of 13 from the field in helping the Razorbacks (22-11) win their first NIT game 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.
“It surprised me, too,” Bell said of his last two home games. “I owe it all to the offense … People are looking for me.”
Six players scored in double figures for the Razorbacks, who advance to the second round to face the winner of Wednesday’s Utah Valley State-California game.
None were more critical than Bell, who had 18 points in 17 first-half minutes to carry Arkansas in his 13th start of the season. The Razorbacks were 8-of-17 shooting on 3-pointers, led by Bell’s 6-of-8 effort from behind the arc.
“It’s his time,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “We were going to play a team that I thought was going to pack their defense. And you’ve got to have somebody that can knock some shots down, and he’s a guy that capable of doing that.”
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.
“I was a little concerned, to say the least,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “I think they’re an NCAA team for sure … They wore us down a little bit in the second half.”
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.
“They’re one of the best teams we played all year,” Odum said. “… They wore us down. They grinded on us, and they earned it.”