Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Arkansas lets North Carolina off the hook late
Arkansas' Daryl Macon (4) is consoled by Dustin Thomas (13) after a second-round game against North Carolina in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Greenville, S.C., Sunday, March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
GREENVILLE, S.C. With 3:28 left and eighth-seeded Arkansas up 65-60 on top-seeded North Carolina, the Razorbacks were poised to deliver a shocker to the college basketball world and land in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 21 years.
But the Tar Heels would score the game’s final 12 points and survive a big-time Arkansas knockout punch with a 72-65 win Sunday night in the South Regional at Bon Secours Arena.
It will be a game that the Razorbacks (26-10) - who won 9 of their last 12 games - will look back at for a long time as one that got away.
“I just thought we ran out of time,” noted Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, whose team was down 17 in the first half. “Heck of a ballgame. Again, a lot of people had us even dead and buried in this game here. But these guys here, they're hurting right now and they're hurting for the right reason. They came in here to win and move on in the NCAA Tournament. We're disappointed in that.
“But I'm so proud of these guys and what they've done this year. Even as we've come to the conclusion of some of our guys' careers -- Moses (Kingsley), Dusty Hannahs and of course Manuale Watkins. Those guys have meant a whole lot to our program.”
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said he feels like his team got away with one.
“I love the way they competed and feels awfully nice right now,” Williams said. “And I don't mind saying I feel a little lucky. Every now and then I knock in a long putt, too.”
It was the third time in as many tries that North Carolina (29-7) has kept Arkansas out of the Sweet 16 with the Tar Heels winning 108-77 in 2008 and 87-78 in 2015.
“These two guys (Kingsley and Watkins) here, they've been here -- for the two times we've been in the tournament to play North Carolina,” Anderson said. “It was a distinct difference than it was the last time we played. It was a big-time difference.
“So congratulations to them… But I'm telling these guys here -- Daryl (Macon), the whole team -- I'm real proud of these guys and what they came out and accomplished this year.”
One hotly debated call will be the non-call on North Carolina point guard Joel Berry III.
Berry charged into the lane and appeared to both run over an Arkansas defender and walk, but neither were called and he flicked a shot off the backboard that Kennedy Meeks scored on to put the Tar Heels up 68-65 with 44.2 seconds left.
“I thought he ran over one of our guys,” Anderson said. “If he didn’t, he traveled…I know we had a guy in place there. I think that gave them a 3-point lead.
“…But that wasn’t the difference in that game. I just thought we had some bad turnovers at the wrong time or we didn’t get off a good shot.”
Arkansas - who was led by Daryl Macon (18 points), Anton Beard (10) and Jaylen Barford and Moses Kingsley with 9 points each - was called for 20 fouls and North Carolina 10 during the game.
That resulted in the Tar Heels hitting 19-of-24 free throws while the Razorbacks were 5-of-8.
“We shot eight free throws,” Anderson said. “I noticed that. And I don't know if North Carolina plays good defense, they don't play great defense. They had three fouls (in the second half). And we're an attacking team. We were attacking.
“There were some opportunities where we were in the fastbreak mode we were attacking, getting to the basket. But it was called that way and of course our guys gotta play through that.”
Beard summed up the game’s final minutes.
“We’ll learn from this,” Beard said. “We played not to lose. We went too late in the shot clock and then wound up just throwing up something, and they took advantage of it.”
Arkansas was 17-7 after a stretch where it lost three times in four games before bowing up and closing out the season strong, making it to the SEC Tournament title game and the NCAA’s Round of 32.
“It's kind of hard to sum it up right now,” Anderson said. “ I'm really kind of pissed, no -- I'm kind of not necessarily ticked off, but it's just one of those things, you had something in your hand and you let it get away.
“But I thought these guys gave me everything they had. I mean, when you think about -- they had a special year. When you're talking about seven guys who have never donned a Razorback uniform, to come in, mesh in with five or six guys who were holdovers from last year and to win 26 games, I think the second-most in the last 20-some-odd years.
“And not only that, took probably one of the top teams in the country, led them for the most part in a game in the NCAA Tournament to go to the Sweet 16. Playing good basketball.”
Barford said he expects Arkansas to be a force next season with all but the three seniors returning and adding in a trio of recruits in El Dorado center Daniel Gafford (6-10, 223), Little Rock Parkview guard Khalil Garland (6-6, 190) and Little Rock Mills forward Darious Hall (6-7, 210).
“I guess it’s good we showed the entire country what we were all about,” Barford said. “We have a lot returning, and we will be back next year.”
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