Tuesday night’s atmosphere inside Bud Walton Arena was like a dream transpiring in real-time. I think it is safe to say that you were either in attendance or wished that you were, and hopefully, those that were not in the arena lived vicariously through the social media posts of friends. I have labeled Tuesday night’s experience as magical, and I will try and paint the scenes of Bud Walton as I saw them happen.
The anticipation for tipoff began mounting on Monday morning when several students set up shop with tents to secure their place in line for entrance. The line continued to grow through the afternoon and into the night. On Twitter, Razorback fans from all over the country added to the excitement during the day. It quickly became apparent that Tuesday’s working hours would be less than productive for Razorback fans. However, the common theme amongst fans was consistent. We all confidently knew that Tuesday night’s matchup would not be an ordinary night of college basketball in the SEC. Something crazy was on the agenda for the matchup between the Hogs and Tigers.
On Tuesday morning, pictures and videos surfaced of the student ticket line stretching around Bud Walton. I’d say the anticipation for tipoff tripled during the day, which made the last few hours before game time feel like another whole day.
This is like...less than half of the student line pic.twitter.com/WwIAftR87X— HAWWWWWWWWWGS (@RazorbackMBB) February 8, 2022
I arrived at Bud Walton around 5:30 p.m. At the time, the doors had been open for students and fans for an hour. Yet, the scene outside the arena was unlike anything I had seen leading up to a college basketball game. Lawn chairs belonging to students wrapped around the arena to the Jerry & Gene Jones Student-Athlete Success Center. The remains of the student’s efforts to acquire a seat looked like the aftermath of a late-night musical festival. Meanwhile, all parking lots were full of Hog fans trying to find a last-minute parking spot and hurry into the arena just half an hour before tipoff. At that moment, I knew the buzz inside Bud Walton would be unlike any basketball atmosphere that I have experienced.
Upon entry, the arena was already packed to the gills. Every concession line overlapped the security barriers while a sea of white shirts filed into their seats well before the pregame announcements. All fans in attendance got a few minutes off their feet while the Hogs participated in their final shooting drills before the starting lineups were announced. Then, the lights went off, and Bud Walton Arena came to its feet and remained standing for the rest of the night.
The crowd seemed to exhale when the ball went up at midcourt. However, the break did not last long as the game’s first five minutes were chaotic. Early dunks from Jaylin Williams and Au’Diese Toney set Bud Walton ablaze, and the crowd did not let up during the first half. As the Hogs and Tigers traded early blows, I had to remind myself that we were in a marathon, not a sprint, and little did I know that we would receive five extra minutes of free overtime basketball.
The pregame buzz seemed to resurface at halftime. Although, this time there was a hint of nervousness. Could the Hogs put together another 20 minutes of fantastic defense and knock off the Tigers? The answer was yes, but it was the most nerve-racking half of basketball. Luckily, last season’s Sweet 16 matchup produced an equal amount of anxiety, but it never gets easier. Fans in all sections embraced each other as the clock wound down on the second half, and another exhale happened with the realization that the Hogs had a shot to finish the Tigers in overtime.
The crowd inside Bud Walton did not miss a beat as the second half transitioned to overtime. The first three minutes of the extended period seemed to transpire extra fast, while the game’s last two minutes slowed to a crawling pace. Auburn was relentless in their efforts to tie the game one last time, but Hog fans started to feel it within the last minute. After Chris Lykes knocked down a pair of free throws, the student section began moving down to the court. Just one more stop would seal the game.
Jaylin Williams’ defensive rebound and throw out to Devo Davis resulted in what can only be described as pandemonium. Strangers swapped hugs and high-fives while the students carried the sea of white onto the court. Every fan in attendance had a wide smile as they watched the celebration take place around the arena. It was as if everyone wanted to stay inside Bud Walton and celebrate all night. It was an atmosphere and experience that I will talk about forever.
Personally, Tuesday night’s victory over the no.1 Auburn Tigers ranks at the top of my sporting event experiences. I’ve been lucky to be a part of a handful of Razorback games with great crowds and statement wins. Most recently, the football field storming after the victory over Texas was at the top of my list. However, I think the football field storming was a celebration of Sam Pittman’s rejuvenation of Arkansas Football and the bright future ahead. On the other hand, the storming of Nolan Richardson Court was assurance on many levels. First, the win reassured the country that last season’s Elite 8 run was not a fluke. The victory proved that this season’s team is full of talent and can carry their recent performance into the postseason. And lastly, the win verified the tremendous job that Eric Musselman is doing with the Arkansas Basketball program. Razorback basketball is alive and well, and here to stay.
The remainder of this regular season will be a gauntlet for the Razorbacks. But I have reason to believe this team has magic remaining in the tank and something to prove as we inch closer to the madness of March.