The architect of Arkansas Razorback basketball, Eddie Sutton, passed away on Saturday at the age of 84. His Hall-of-Fame career held many high points, but perhaps his biggest achievement was building a program that had held only flickering success several decades prior into a national powerhouse that sustained and extended long after he’d left. The football-obsessed state of Arkansas found plenty of room in its collective heart to adore its newfound love of basketball, and our community is better for having something else to connect us.
Here’s five moments that Coach Sutton gave us.
2/1/1978, #2 Arkansas 75, #12 Texas 71
The Razorbacks had dropped a game earlier in Austin and appeared out the door early in the second half of this one, as well. The Horns extended a 41-38 point halftime lead to 53-42, and Barnhill was as quiet as you could make Barnhill in the late 70s.
But no one was gonna keep all three of the Triplets down, and Marvin Delph took over the game, scoring thirty points and edging Texas, 75-71.
More important than a crucial conference win, more important than knocking the much-loathed Villain down, this is the game that put Arkansas basketball on the map. Sports Illustrated was there, making a photo of Sidney Moncrief’s sky-high, both-hands-behind-the-head dunk into one of their greatest and most well-known covers (note: I will offer my right arm, my first-born, and all of my money to Sports Illustrated for a giant-sized poster. Please. It’s important.)
3/16/1978, #5 Arkansas 74, #2 UCLA 70
UCLA was only a couple of years removed from their unstoppable run of championships with John Wooden. For Eddie Sutton and Arkansas, defeating a program of the caliber of UCLA was important to establish that they belonged among the great teams.
The Hogs and Bruins faced off in Albuquerque in the 1978 Sweet Sixteen. Arkansas got off to a fast start, leading 40-22 at one point in the first half. The Pac-8 champions kept their cool, however, and grinded out a 60-58 lead. From there, the Triplets wouldn’t allow the season to end. Marvin Delph’s 23 points, Sidney Moncrief’s 21, and Ron Brewer’s 18 gave the Hogs just enough to secure a 74-70 victory.
The win over the Bruins moved the Hogs one step closer to their first Final Four since the 1940s, cementing this Triplets team as one of the greats in Razorback history.
3/14/1981, #20 Arkansas 74, #12 Louisville 73
Time in college basketball is divided by one moment. Before there was March Madness, and after U.S. Reed invented March Madness. Seriously, dig this terrific article about that day. Before, the tournament was a chance to watch a couple of late season games between good teams; now, it’s the two days I try to avoid working so I can catch any wild, woolly thing that happens.
Somewhere between U.S. Reed coolly moving the ball up to half-court and tossing it up and broadcaster Marv Albert describing “the mad scene here in Austin, Texas,” the game changed. The month of March meant something different.
Arkansas shocked Louisville, the defending national champions, 74-73, and college basketball was never the same.
2/12/1984, Arkansas 65, #1 North Carolina 64
Very weird things had to happen for this game to exist.
- There was a time when the Hogs would not only play in Pine Bluff, but they would play a #1-ranked power. In Pine Bluff.
- There was a time the Hogs would play a regular season game on the road one day, fly to (again) Pine Bluff the next morning in terrible weather, and play a second game in the span of twenty-four hours.
- There was a time when Michael Jordan was just an All-American leading the #1 team in the country and not The Greatest Of All Time. And he played a game in Pine Bluff.
Arkansas had a pair of first-round NBA draft picks, Joe Kleine and Alvin Robertson, but Balentine’s Day is celebrated every February 12th because of Charles Balentine’s eight-footer on the baseline with four seconds left to give the Razorbacks a 65-64 win over the Tar Heels.
3/4/1984, #12 Arkansas 73, #2 Houston 68
Houston’s Phi Slama Jama hadn’t lost a conference game in two years and were en-route to their third consecutive Final Four when they visited Barnhill Arena in the regular season finale of 1984. The Hogs had already proven to be giant-killers against North Carolina, but when Hakeem Olajuwon is lining up against you, Goliath looks pretty stout.
The Razorbacks’ big man, Joe Kleine, went after Olajuwon. When Kleine wasn’t scoring from inside, he was taking fouls and draining every free throw that Olajuwon gave him. After Hakeem the Dream fouled out with six minutes to play, it was all over but the shouting.
So was Houston’s 39-game conference win streak.
Godspeed and thanks for giving Arkansas basketball, Coach.
Thanks for reading and, as ever, thanks to Razorback archivist WarMachine2013 for his important Internet contributions. Go ahead and follow @ArkansasFight on Twitter. For Hog reactions and tips to achieve Eddie Sutton’s smooth 1970s style, follow @lukecdavis.