And so another Arkansas basketball season has ended.
The Razorbacks were underdogs heading into the game, but actually did many of the things I thought they'd have to do to win. They stayed pretty even with North Carolina in rebounding, which was the major concern, and even had more offensive rebounds. The got 11 points from Anthlon Bell, 5 from Jabril Durham, and 4 from Moses Kingsley. Arkansas even fouled out Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks barely played in the second half due to foul trouble and a knee injury with a few minutes left.
Arkansas just turned the ball over way too many times, 21 times to be exact. That's a season high. The Hogs just couldn't put enough together to overcome it.
They tried though, Lord they tried. Michael Qualls had one of the best games of his career with 27 points and 10 rebounds. He's starred over the last few games as the lights have been the brightest. Bobby Portis continued to struggle from the field but still put together 18 points on 5/15 shooting to go with 14 rebounds. Ky Madden was a scorer again with 13 points and 5 assists.
The Razorbacks stayed even with North Carolina for most of the game. Arkansas came out hot and had a slight lead for the first 8 minutes of the game, then it went back and forth for a while. The Tar Heels led by 3 at halftime but it was always close. Marcus Paige finally blew the game open for Carolina with a pair of threes at 8:51 and 7:25, pushing the lead from four points to ten. Arkansas continued to fight until the end but never seriously threatened again.
It was an exciting game to watch, particularly in the first half. The pace was frantic, possibly too frantic for Arkansas. The refs called the game much more tightly in the second half, with both teams in the double bonus with plenty of time to go. It was an apt way to end the season.
You hate to see Alandise Harris end his Razorback career with a game like that. Harris made the game winning play against Wofford but struggled massively against North Carolina, going 0-3 in 13 minutes with four turnovers. He had two rebounds, a steal and a block. At one point early in the game he drove to the basket and appeared to draw contact but there was no whistle. Harris ran back and had an emphatic block at the other end but appeared frustrated. Rough way to go out for a player who sat on the bench for a year and then made a lot of plays for the Hogs over the last two seasons.
Madden ended his Arkansas career with a good performance, going 5/8 from the field for 13 points and 5 assists. He, Kareem Reid and Lee Mayberry are the only three Razorbacks to finish their career with over 1,100 points and 350 assists. He and Harris will both be missed next year.
Unfortunately, this season is over, and the immediate focus turns to the future of Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls. If they come back, Arkansas will be one of the most hyped teams in the country coming into the season. They lose Harris and Madden and "replace" them with Jimmy Whitt and Ted Kapita, recruiting for the class of 2015 is done and the coaching staff can focus on the 2016 season and recruiting class. If they leave, the Hogs will take a step back, but we just won't know how big of one. There'll be a couple more scholarships to fill and we don't know who those players could be. Or, just one could leave, and then who knows.
We'll delve more into that topic in the coming days, but for now, let's enjoy the season that was. It was one worth appreciating. We've seen several things we haven't seen for many seasons, and had a great ride into March. It's unfortunate Arkansas was put in the bracket with North Carolina as the 4-seed instead of, say, the region with Georgetown as the 4-seed, but that's how the Tournament goes. You've got to beat somebody good at some point to make a deep run.
I've really enjoyed watching this team. It's been a great privilege as a fan. I can't wait to see what the two stars decide to do and think about what could happen next season.