Like It Is:

Win wasn't pretty, but Razorbacks don't care

By: Wally Hall Wally Hall's Twitter account
Published: Monday, March 22, 2021
Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) gets a dunk in front of Texas Tech forward Marcus Santos-Silva (14) in the second half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) gets a dunk in front of Texas Tech forward Marcus Santos-Silva (14) in the second half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Sunday, March 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Literally, the Arkansas Razorbacks survived and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 with a 68-66 win over Texas Tech.

It is the Hogs’ first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1996.

Arkansas led by 13 with 9:04 to play, but the Red Raiders suddenly were like SEAL snipers: They were hitting from long range.

They hit four three-pointers to make it 58-57 with 5:30 to play.

Moses Moody banked in a three, and Jalen Tate made four free throws and the Hogs seemed safe, momentarily with a 65-57 lead.

The Raiders hit another three, topped it with a three-point play, and it was 65-62 with 3:06 to play.

It would be Texas Tech’s final field goal, although the Hogs had only one left in them.

Jaylin Williams hit Justin Smith, who made the perfect back cut for a lay-up and the Hogs led 67-62. That was their final field goal of the game, managing to set the final score with a free throw with 19 seconds remaining.

It appeared the Raiders might take their first lead of the second half when they trailed 67-66 with 1:13 to play and faced a one-and-one opportunity.

In 10 second-half free-throw attempts they had missed just one until this final one bounced free.

From start to finish it was like watching two heavyweight boxers slugging it out for the championship.

Two great coaches matching wits.

No one was sure if the Hogs could win if the Red Raiders dictated the tempo.

They did though.

Chris Beard likes games in the 60s, and he got it, holding the Hogs to 15 points below their average.

Yet, this was always going to be a defensive battle.

Both teams knew what was on the line, glory or go home, and they played with incredible intensity.

Almost every dribble was challenged.

Shots were forced by both teams because no one could get open.

In the final analysis, though the Red Raiders weren’t ready for Justin Smith who led the way with 20 points and added six rebounds.

Freshmen Devo Davis and Moses Moody had 15 each.

The unsung hero was Williams, a freshman from Fort Smith, who came off the bench and made a free throw, but he wasn’t in there for shooting.

Williams had 10 rebounds and four assists, both top numbers for the Razorbacks.

He was instrumental in changing Texas Tech shots when they drove to the basket, and he banged with the physical Red Raiders in the paint like a veteran.

It was far from the prettiest game the Razorbacks have played, but it is better to win ugly than lose pretty.

Arkansas was 4 of 17 on three-pointers, and they allowed Texas Tech 10 fast-break points.

It also was not typical of how the Hogs have played lately with lots of passes and assists.

They led 33-31 at the half but had only three assists.

In the second half, they got the Red Raiders looking with three-four pass plays that usually left one of the Razorbacks isolated with single coverage, enabling them to drive in for a lay-up.

They had seven assists and the second half and scored 14 points in the paint.

Both coaches, Eric Musselman and Beard, logged almost as many steps as the players, and at times they were very animated. But when they needed to be calm that’s what they were.

This is Musselman’s second trip to the Sweet 16, the last was with Nevada in 2018.

To get there, every team has to have a little luck, and that probably goes back through all of college basketball history. The Razorbacks had some luck, like Moody’s last score that banked off the glass for three, but mostly they made their luck with a stifling defense.

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.