By Kevin McPherson

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — The 10th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks are making a habit of exorcising their December demons. The Hoop Hogs avenged last season’s loss against a mid-major opponent in their annual game played in central Arkansas by turning unranked mid-major Bradley over and inside-out, 76-57, on Saturday in front of 16,675 fans at Simmons Bank Arena. That attendance figure was announced as the second-largest crowd ever at the venue for a basketball game.

It was a flood of turnovers forced by the Hogs, who finished plus-16 in that category (27-11) while feeding a plus-28 advantage in points-off-turnovers (37-9). Freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh scored a career-high 18 points (7-of-7 field goals, including 1-of-1 from 3, and 3-of-4 free throws) to go with 4 steals, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist in leading Arkansas before fouling out with 7:06 to play. Junior guard Ricky Council IV (16 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals) and freshman guard Anthony Black (15 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks) also reached double-figure scoring.

The Razorbacks held double-digit leads for most of the game, and they stretched a 12-point halftime advantage to a 22-point lead with a 10-0 run capped by junior guard Devo Davis’ three-point shot that made it 56-34 prior to the midway point of the final 20 minutes. Arkansas led by as many as 24 points in the second half.

“I thought defensively we were really good,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “It’s hard on student-athletes when you’re used to the rhythm of two games (a week) and have finals. We did have some guys that were in study hall quite a bit last week. And so it’s a game across college basketball that you’ve to keep an eye on just because of all the stuff that’s going on during a long layoff.

“But I thought we responded really well. I thought we played really, really hard against a really good team. I thought we respected Bradley and had a great week of preparation. And then Jordan Walsh just keeps getting better. You can see his confidence continue to grow each game. The last two games the energy that he’s played with has been really, really on another level.”

Arkansas — 10-1 and winners of six consecutive games — was coming off a 10-point victory a week ago against Oklahoma in a revenge rematch after last season’s 22-point debacle against the Sooners, a loss that was followed by the Razorbacks stumbling in North Little Rock in an 8-point defeat against mid-major Hofstra.

This time, the Hogs finished 2-0 in their Oklahoma/mid-major December sweepstakes with a combined winning margin of 29 points, flipping the script of last season’s 0-2 run by a combined losing margin of 30 points.

In addition to their lopsided advantage in the turnover battle against Bradley on Saturday, the Hogs dominated points-in-the-paint (40-16), fastbreak points (17-7), bench scoring (16-8), and hustle plays (Hogs with 16 steals and 5 blocks compared to the Braves’ 8 steals and 2 blocks). Bradley did win rebounding (32-26).

Arkansas hit its season efficiency in field goal percentage (49.0%) on 25-of-51 overall shooting, including 4-of-11 from 3 (36.4%). Defensively, in addition to creating turnover chaos for the Braves, the Hogs held their opponent to only 40% field goal shooting (18-of-45), including 4-of-15 from 3 (26.7%).

Joining Walsh, Council, and Black with big impact and production were junior guard Davis (7 points, a team-high 7 rebounds, a team-high 5 steals, and 3 assists; and senior big men Makhi Mitchell and Jalen Graham, who combined for 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Star freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr., the team’s second-leading per-game scorer coming in, was limited to 20 minutes and sat most of the second half as he finished with 5 points, 1 rebound, and 1 steal. Musselman said Smith should be good to go in Arkansas’ next game in just four days.

All 14 Hogs who were available played in the game.

“I think that we’ve done a great job of covering for each other if someone gets beat off the dribble,” Musselman said. “We did not want to give up threes tonight. We held them to four. The goal was five or less. So, a really, really great job of respecting their ability to shoot threes. They execute really well … I thought we were really physical. I thought our physicality, our length, all those things and being aggressive defensively is in our DNA. 16 steals is a lot of steals.

“I think last year’s team caused 20 turnovers maybe three times. We’ve already had four and still have two more non-conference games, one before SEC play. So, I think the aggressiveness defensively is maybe a little bit ahead of where we thought it might be at this time of the year.”

Walsh was quick to credit Arkansas’ coaching staff for his recent explosive, disruptive, efficient, and productive play as he averaged 15.0 points while being a catalyst for forcing turnovers in the wins over Oklahoma and Bradley.

“I feel like the whole thing was possible just because me and Coach (Keith) Smart would watch film with each other, we’d study the other team and we’d know what their weaknesses are on defense and also on offense,” Walsh said. “It was all just a part of his game plan, for real.”

Big man Rienk Mast led Bradley with 17 points to go with 6 rebounds and 6 turnovers. Forward Malevy Leons and guard Duke Dean each scored 11 points for the Braves, who had five players with 3 or more turnovers in the game.

Next up for Arkansas is another non-conference game as the Razorbacks will host North Carolina-Asheville on Wednesday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville (8 p.m. CT, SEC Network). A week later in their next game, the Hogs will open SEC play on the road against LSU on Dec. 28.

With their win over the Braves (7-4), the Hoop Hogs improved to 4-1 in neutral-site games on the season to go with a 6-0 mark in home games. For purposes of NCAA NET rankings, the North Little Rock result will count as a home game. It was the first ever meeting between Arkansas and Bradley.

Musselman improved to 2-1 in games played in central Arkansas, and the Razorbacks are 13-10 at Simmons Bank Arena (formerly Alltel Arena and Verizon Arena).

Musselman’s now 83-29 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 47-7 mark against non-conference opponents. He has a 36-22 record against SEC teams and a 6-2 mark spanning two NCAA Tournaments that culminated in back-to-back Elite Eight runs and back-to-back final national Top 10 rankings.

For the fourth consecutive game, Musselman started Black, Council, Walsh, Smith, and Makhi Mitchell.

Walsh had two transition dunks after two Hog steals on back-to-back possessions as part of an 11-0 Arkansas run that was good for a 17-7 early lead.

Walsh later hit a three-pointer as part of his 16-point first half (6-of-6 field goals, including 1-of-1 from 3, and 3-of-4 free throws) that helped stake Arkansas to a 37-25 lead at halftime.

The Razorbacks dominated the turnover battle in the first 20 minutes, going plus-11 in giveaways (16-5) and plus-17 in points-off-turnovers (21-4).

Arkansas shot 13-of-28 overall from the field (46.4%) in the opening half, including 2-of-6 from 3 (33.3%). The Hogs made 9-of-12 at the foul line (75%) in the first 20 minutes.

Bradley shot 9-of-19 field goals (47.4%), including 2-of-3 from 3 (66.7%). The Braves were 5-of-6 at the free throw line (83.3%).