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 a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Sweetness! Hogs rally, eliminate defending champs
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman celebrates after a 72-71 victory over Kansas at the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
DES MOINES, Iowa — The University of Arkansas men’s basketball team added to the Madness of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Kansas, the defending national champion, became the second No. 1 seed to lose in two days as the No. 8 seed Razorbacks took down the Jayhawks 72-71 at Wells Fargo Arena in the second round of the West Region.
“Wonderful win,” said junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis, who led the Razorbacks with 25 points. “Feels unreal right now.”
Purdue was the other No. 1 seed to lose, 63-58 to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday night.
“I don’t know how to react, but I know it does feel good,” Davis said. “I know we feel like we’re at the top of the world. And we want to continue to get better.”
Arkansas (22-13) beat the West’s No. 1 seed for the second consecutive season along with a 74-68 victory over Gonzaga last season and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 11th time and third consecutive season under Coach Eric Musselman.
The Razorbacks made the Elite Eight the previous two seasons. Musselman also led Nevada to the Sweet 16 in 2018.
Before beating Gonzaga, the Razorbacks were 0-10 against No. 1 seeds.
Arkansas, which rallied from a 12-point deficit against Kansas, pulled off the 22nd victory for a No. 8 or No. 9 seed against No. 1 seeds compared to 128 losses since 1985 when the NCAA Tournament was expanded to 64 teams.
“I’ve been coaching a long time, and that’s as great a win as I’ve ever been a part of,” Musselman said. “Because of the history of Kansas, because of some of their veteran players that were part of a national championship team last year.
“A lot of people didn’t think we were going to win our first-round game.”
The Razorbacks, who beat Illinois 73-63 on Thursday, didn’t start well against Kansas. They trailed 11-2 after being 1 of 7 from the field and 35-28 at halftime.
Kansas pushed its lead to 46-34 with 15:20 left on junior guard Dajuan Harris’ driving basket. But instead of folding, Arkansas looked like the team that was ranked No. 10 in The Associated Press preseason poll before dealing with some injuries and a 1-5 start in SEC play.
“Give Arkansas a lot of credit,” said Norm Roberts, the Jayhawks’ acting head coach for the fifth consecutive game with Bill Self continuing to recover from a heart procedure. “They did a great job of attacking us in the second half.”
Davis, who scored 21 points in the second half, finished 9 of 15 from the field, hit 6 of 7 free throws, and had 8 rebounds.
“Davis played out of this world,” Roberts said. “Really made a lot of shots, but we knew he was good at doing that. Then he really hurt us on the glass.”
Davis fouled out with 1:56 left when KJ Adams hit 1 of 2 free throws to give Kansas (28-8) a 65-63 lead.
Then Arkansas junior guard Ricky Council took over the game and scored 7 of his 21 points in the final 1:43.
“When Devo fouled out, Coach looked at me and said he wanted me to take the role that Devo had,” Council said. “I was just trying to make the right play.”
Council’s jump shot tied the game at 65-65, then senior forward Kamani Johnson’s rebound basket gave the Razorbacks a 67-65 lead — their first since 2-0.
After Kansas All-American senior forward Jalen Wilson hit two free throws for a 67-67 tie, Council hit a free throw for a 68-67 Arkansas lead.
Council missed the second free throw, but a scramble ensued for the rebound and freshman forward Jordan Walsh tipped the ball to Council.
“Obviously I didn’t want to miss, but Jordan hustled,” Council said. “I remember it tipping off of Jalen Wilson, and it coming right to me.
“I was like, ‘Either I can attack this — because I was literally at the free-throw line when I got it — or I can pull it out.’ I know in the worst-case scenario I was probably going to get fouled.”
Council didn’t make his driving attempt, but he was fouled by Wilson and made both free throws to put Arkansas ahead 70-67 with 20 seconds left.
Wilson, who scored 20 points, hit two more free throws to make it 70-69 with 8.0 seconds left and then fouled Council.
Council hit two more free throws to give the Razorbacks a 72-69 lead with 7.1 seconds left.
Wilson was fouled by freshman guard Anthony Black with 3.0 seconds left. He hit the first first free throw and tried to miss the second to give the Jayhawks an opportunity for an offensive rebound, but the ball hit the backboard and went through the basket to make it 72-71,
The Jayhawks then were unable to get a steal or foul a Razorback before the game ended, setting off a wild celebration for Arkansas and its fans that included Musselman taking off his shirt.
“I know that the state of Arkansas is on fire right now,” Musselman said.
Walsh had 10 points, 3 rebound and 3 steals in 33 minutes off the bench before fouling out with 8 seconds left. But it was Davis and Council who carried most of the offensive load with freshman guard Nick Smith going scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting in 16 minutes and Black shooting 1 of 6.
“Our veteran players — Devo and Ricky — really went crazy, and we got a lot of stops,” Black said. “It wasn’t my game on offense today, so I really focused on defense.
“Devo and Ricky, their experience really showed up.”
Johnson’s experience also showed as he led the Razorbacks with 10 rebounds and hit 2 of 3 shots to finish with 4 points.
Adams, a junior forward, scored 14 points for Kansas and senior guard Kevin McCullar added 13.
“Arkansas had great energy, and they played to their strengths a lot,” Wilson said. “And I didn’t do a good job on the glass and that let them get a lot of second-chance points. It was especially magnified at the end of the game.”
The Razorbacks outrebounded the Jayhawks 36-29 and had 15 offensive rebounds — led by Johnson’s 6 — to finish with a 15-2 edge in second-chance points. Wilson, averaging 8.4 rebounds per game, was held to 4 by the Razorbacks.
Arkansas also helped itself by hitting 21 of 26 free throws — Council was 10 of 11 and Davis 6 of 7 — limiting its turnovers to 11 and shooting 46.7% (14 of 30) from the field in the second half.
Musselman improved to 10-5 in NCAA Tournament games, including 8-2 at Arkansas the past three seasons.
“Really good players,” Musselman said when asked the key to his March success. “You can’t win at any level — CYO, grade school, high school, college, pro, G-League, national team — unless you have really good players.
“And we have really good players. We have guys that have insane buy-in.”
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