Oh man that was tough.
The first 14 minutes or so were so awful I know a lot of people changed the channel or at least fully expected the game to go the way of the 2008 bloodbath against the Tar Heels.
Then something special happened. Arkansas closed the lead to 5 points by halftime and took the lead for a good chunk of the second half. The Razorbacks even had a 3-point lead at the under-4-minute timeout and a 5-point lead with three minutes to go.
Arkansas made a season out of closing out tough games, but they ran out of magic at the end of this game.
The last few minutes seemed to hinge on two plays. With all the momentum and the 5-point lead, Adrio Bailey reached in for a steal and knocked the ball loose and it looked like the Hogs were headed to another fast break layup, but the officials called a foul on Bailey. They didn’t show a replay so I wasn’t sure if it was a good call or not, but the refs were pretty liberal with the foul calls for most of the game - North Carolina never even reached the bonus in either half.
Joel Berry made those free throws, so it was a 4-point swing. What was nearly a 7-point lead became a 3-point lead.
Then a few minutes later, with Arkansas down by a point, Berry drove on Arkansas and appeared to drive into a Razorback, but there was no call, no foul on either side. Kennedy Meeks grabbed the ball that Berry threw up and put it back in for a layup.
Despite the officiating on those plays (plus the obvious missed call on a block that would have given Arkansas a desperation shot with 2 seconds on the shot clock), Arkansas still failed to score in the final three minutes. Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon, Anton Beard, and Moses Kingsley all missed shots in that period. The Razorbacks just hit a wall.
The Razorbacks made a tremendous effort in attempting to break their ungodly streak of missing out on the Sweet 16. The Hogs have rarely played a 2nd Round game against a better opponent and the Hogs have rarely had as good a chance at the end of the game. Especially after Arkansas basically spotted 6 free minutes to start the game.
Macon bounced back from an ugly game against Seton Hall to lead the team with 19 points. Beard followed up his ugly 1st Round game with 10 points. Nobody else reached double figures for the Hogs. Barford and Kingsly scored 9 points. Hannahs scored 8. Adrio Bailey came in during the first half and helped spark Arkansas’ first run with 4 quick points.
Arkansas also seemed to struggle with in-game injuries for the first time this season. Barford missed a good chunk of the first half with a leg problem. Macon and Beard also had to go out in the second half when both were playing well. All three returned to the game, but those injuries were really inopportune for Arkansas.
We’ll write more about this team and the season and what lies ahead for this basketball program in the coming days, but we’ll leave this here for right now.
I didn’t care for watching this team at the beginning of the season. They didn’t seem to have very good chemistry. But over the last month, they really came together. I told people after the loss to Vanderbilt a few weeks ago I wouldn’t pick them to make the NCAA Tournament. But they started clicking at that point. They became really fun to watch. And they earned an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament, won their first game, and came within 2 minutes of knocking off 1-seed North Carolina and making the Sweet 16. Arkansas fans should be proud of them.