Ames, IA (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of nationally-ranked team highlight Thursday's action in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, as the No. 20 Iowa State Cyclones welcome the 18th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks to Hilton Coliseum.
Arkansas found itself ranked for the first time since 2007 a few weeks ago, and it made a leap from No. 25 to No. 18 in the most recent poll now that it is 6-0, its best start since the 1997-98 campaign. The Razorbacks kept their perfect season intact with an easy 94-77 home win over Iona on Sunday.
Iowa State, meanwhile, has slipped slightly in the polls after starting the season No. 14, due to its loss in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic title game to Maryland on Nov. 25, 72-63. The Cyclones rebounded nicely from that setback with a dominant 96-59 home win over Lamar on Tuesday to extend their regular- season non-conference home winning streak to 23 games.
The Cyclones have a 3-1 advantage over the Razorbacks in the all-time series, which includes a win in the most recent matchup during the 1999-2000 season (77-71).
The Razorbacks had a difficult time with Iona, as they trailed by one midway through the second half, but they pulled away for the convincing victory thanks to a late 24-8 run. They shot only 41 percent from the field but played at an incredible pace with 83 field goal attempts, a number that was aided greatly by winning both the rebounding (51-40) and turnover (18-11) battles. Anthlon Bell and Michael Qualls scored 20 points apiece, with the duo combining to shoot 8-of-17 from 3-point range. Rashad Madden stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while Bobby Portis narrowly missed a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Arkansas runs one of the most high-octane attacks in the nation, as it shoots 47 percent from the field for 90.0 ppg, nearly 20 points more than it allows, and its up-tempo style has allowed for an outstanding +7.3 turnover margin. Nine players score at least 5.2 ppg, led by Qualls with 15.3 ppg. Portis scores 14.5 ppg and hauls in a team-best 6.2 rpg. Bell (13.2 ppg) and Madden (11.2 ppg, 6.0 apg) round out the double-digit scorers.
The Cyclones enjoyed their best offensive performance of the young season in their 37-point blowout over Lamar earlier in the week. They shot 52.2 percent from the field, including 13-of-34 from 3-point range, and they scored 44 points off of an astounding 27 Lamar turnovers. Pacing five teammates in double figures with 13 points was George Niang, who shot 6-of-8 from the field. Bryce Dejean-Jones nearly posted a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Matt Thomas (14 points), Naz Long (12) and Daniel Edozie (10) rounded out the balanced effort.
Iowa State is built in a similar mold as Arkansas, as it shoots 47.5 percent from the field for a lofty 83.4 ppg, with an excellent turnover margin (+5.0) going a long way in aiding its point totals. Its offensive effort has been more than enough to support a solid scoring defense (69.0 ppg). Niang (18.2 ppg) is one of the Big 12's best scorers and brings 6.6 rpg to the mix as well. Dejean-Jones is a multi-faceted playmaker with 14.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 2.0 steals and more than a block per game. Long (12.6 ppg), Dustin Hogue (11.6 ppg) and Thomas (11.0 ppg) also score in double figures and Monte Morris (9.6 ppg) dishes out 6.4 apg.