Arkansas is moving on to Sunday.
It wasn’t really by script. The Razorbacks’ much-ballyhooed bench didn’t do much. In fact, only five Razorbacks scored a point. Manny Watkins, Anton Beard, Trey Thompson, and Arlando Cook combined for 0 points, not part of the Razorback victory recipe, but still Arkansas won.
It took maybe the best performances we’ve gotten from Moses Kingsley and Dustin Thomas, but Arkansas prevailed after winning the last few minutes of the game.
Kingsley was dominant offensively from the start. He made his first five shots, none of which were near the basket and one was even a three from the top of the key. He finished with a game-high 23 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 4 blocks. Seton Hall’s All-Big East star, Angel Delgado, couldn’t slow him down on that end of the floor. Moses also made the block that could very well end up being Arkansas’ contribution to the One Shining Moment video at the end of the tournament:
This would have been an impressive performance from Kingley no matter what happened last week. But he was taking some heat for that dreadful first half against Kentucky and ended the game with the flagrant foul on De’Aaron Fox that led to so much criticism, you have to give him extra credit for this performance. Truly impressive.
Thomas was quiet in the first half but came up huge in the second. The Pirates left him open for mid-range jump shots and Thomas, more than we’ve ever seen him do, took full advantage. He scored 11 points in the second half and the Razorbacks would not have won without them. He also added 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block of his own.
Arkansas outshot Seton Hall by over 10% but couldn’t compete with them on the glass. Delgado was dominant there, grabbing 8 of his 12 rebounds on the offensive side. But he wasn’t alone. Michael Nzei also claimed 6 offensive boards. Seton Hall ended up with 19 total offensive rebounds to Arkansas’ 6. It kept them in the game, and most times, that will win, but not today.
Seton Hall took an 8-point lead in the middle of the second half. The first half was tight throughout, but Arkansas clawed back and took the lead on a Kingsley basket with 2:43 to go. Seton Hall took the lead back on a Khadeen Carrington basket, but then it seemed like doom when Jaylen Barford couldn’t convert what seemed like a golden opportunity, drawing a foul but missing the front end of a one-and-one only to get his own rebound and missing the follow-up. But on the next possession, Barford stole the ball and drove to the basket to convert a tough layup to give the Razorbacks the lead.
And this is when controversy ensued. I don’t consider it a serious one. Arkansas, clinging to a 1-point lead, forced Carrington into a traveling call to give the Hogs the ball with 24 seconds left. Arkansas got the ball to Barford driving to the basket, but he was pushed and tripped by Desi Rodriguez. The trip, which sent Barford diving to the floor, appeared accidental, but the push was not a play on the ball. After a brief consideration, the officials ruled it a flagrant foul, giving Arkansas two free throws and the ball.
It is the textbook definition of a flagrant foul, although I admit I’d be livid if it was called that way against Arkansas. If there’s no trip and Barford stays upright, I don’t think they rule it a flagrant, but the trip made the play look more dramatic. At the end of games, those types of intentional fouls are routine. It’s one of those spirit of the law vs letter of the law things. By letter of the rule, it was a flagrant foul. By spirit of the rule, eeehhhhhh? How else do you intentionally foul in that situation? Certainly not by swiping at the ball.
Regardless, Barford sank both free throws, which he still would have shot if it was a normal foul, to give Arkansas a 3-point lead. Daryl Macon drew the ensuing foul and converted one of two to give the Hogs the game-clinching 4-point lead. Seton Hall didn’t score again. Macon made two more free throws. Arkansas advances to Sunday.
Barford ended up with 20 points (the hype for him next season should be quite high). Dusty Hannahs finished with 14 points and surpassed 1,500 points for his career (including his Texas Tech days) if I’m counting right. Macon finished with 7.
Arkansas will face North Carolina on Sunday unless Texas Southern can pull off the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. Assuming that doesn’t happen, the Hogs will likely need a stronger effort from the team to have a chance at pulling that off. The Tar Heels, as you probably know and will likely see replayed relentlessly over the next two days, eliminated Arkansas in the Razorbacks’ last two NCAA Tournament appearances, both in the second round. Is the third time the charm for Arkansas? That would be sweet.