Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
At first, Thurman idolized Orange
Scotty Thurman helped Arkansas to an 13-2 record in NCAA Tournament games.
FAYETTEVILLE Scotty Thurman, who 18 years ago helped Arkansas pull off an improbable victory over Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament, grew up in Ruston, La., rooting for the Orange.
More than 1,400 miles separated Ruston and Syracuse, but Thurman loved watching the Orange play games on television against Georgetown, St. John’s, Pittsburgh and other Big East Conference rivals. He wanted to be like Derrick Coleman, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington and Billy Owens, who starred for Syracuse in the 1980s.
“All my life I wanted to go to Syracuse,” Thurman said. “I dreamed about playing in the Carrier Dome in front of 30,000 people.”
Thurman still roots for the Orange.
“Except when they’re playing Arkansas,” he said.
Arkansas and Syracuse have met only once in basketball, March 19, 1995, when Thurman scored 27 points to lead the Razorbacks to a 96-94 overtime victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Erwin Events Center in Austin, Texas.
The Razorbacks (3-2) and No. 6 Orange (4-0) will play again Friday night at Walton Arena in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Thurman, in his third year as Arkansas’ director of student-athlete development, will be on the Razorbacks’ bench.
He’d rather be on the court against Syracuse.
“That’s every team we play,” said Thurman, who ranks 10th on Arkansas’ all-time scoring list with 1,650 points in 1993-1995. “But my time has passed, so I just try and encourage our players now as much as possible.
“I’m telling these guys, ‘We beat Syracuse before, and you need to maintain that tradition.’ ”
Thurman and the defending national champion Razorbacks found themselves trailing Syracuse 82-81 with 4.3 seconds left in the 1995 matchup when Lucious Jackson stole an inbounds pass by Arkansas guard Corey Beck.
Syracuse star Lawrence Moten, a senior guard who is the Big East’s career leading scorer with 2,334 points, turned to official Tim Higgins and signaled for a timeout. But Syracuse was out of timeouts, which resulted in a technical foul.
Thurman, a junior forward and 78 percent free-throw shooter that season, missed his first attempt after the technical.
“I don’t remember a time going back to junior high where I ever missed two free throws in a row,” Thurman said. “So I never thought I’d miss two — but I never thought I’d miss the first one, either.
“I was a little frustrated, but I knew I had to hit the second one.”
Thurman did, tying the game at 82-82.
The Razorbacks, who retained possession because of the technical, got the ball to Alex Dillard, who missed a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
Arkansas had two starters foul out in regulation — All-America forward Corliss Williamson (25 points, 10 rebounds) and guard Clint McDaniel — and then lost a third starter, center Dwight Stewart, when he fouled out with 4:19 left in overtime and Syracuse leading 85-83.
“It’s probably unheard of for a team to win an NCAA Tournament game in overtime without three of its starters, but I think that was a tribute to our style of play,” Thurman said. “We had guys that were ready when the opportunity came for them.”
Sophomore center Lee Wilson had 18 points and five rebounds off the bench after coming into the game averaging 3.4 points per game. Dillard scored five points in overtime, and Thurman scored the Razorbacks’ last six points, including an 18-foot jumper that put them ahead for good, 95-94, with 1:06 left.
Thurman finished 10 of 16 from the field, including 5 of 8 on three-pointers.
“The bigger the game, the better Scotty played,” said Nolan Richardson, the Razorbacks’ coach from 1986-2002. “He was phenomenal against Syracuse.”
After the game, Thurman sought out Moten. The two had become friends during summer tournaments in high school and at tryouts for the Goodwill Games.
“When I went to shake his hand, Lawrence was on the floor on his back and he had his head in his hands and was crying,” Thurman said. “I remember pulling him up and telling him everything was going to be OK. I know it was a tough situation for him.
“We were happy to win, but you hate to see a guy that had the career Lawrence did for Syracuse have it end that way.”
As a senior at Ruston High School, Thurman narrowed his choices to Arkansas, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Texas. He said he never was recruited by Syracuse, and he never contacted Jim Boeheim — now in his 37th season as the Orange’s coach — or anyone on the staff expressing a desire to play for the Orange.
“I figured at some point they might recruit me,” Thurman said. “But it never happened.”
Richardson wasn’t aware of Thurman’s rooting interest in Syracuse.
“I remember he visited Pittsburgh, but I didn’t know he was a Syracuse fan growing up,” Richardson said. “I just know Scotty came to Arkansas to play, and I’m sure glad he did.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 11/28/2012