In the NCAA Tournament, it doesn’t really matter how well you play or how long you have a lead as long as you have more points at the end.
Arkansas had the lead for just 4:38 but when Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas’ three-pointer was a fraction of an inch short, the Razorbacks survived and advance, 72-70.
It is the Hogs’ first trip to the Elite Eight since the 1995 season when they lost in the championship game to UCLA.
After Saturday night’s win, Eric Musselman was probably already thinking about Monday night’s matchup with Baylor that is going to be a monumental one for a team that has advanced father faster than most people expected.
“We weren’t great offensively tonight, but obviously found a way to win,” he said later.
That’s an understatement, really. They were 37.7% from the field, including a mind-numbing 1-of-9 on three-pointers.
The play that won the game was typical of this team. Fifth-year senior graduate transfer Jalen Tate drove to the lane, passed to freshman Davonte Davis, who proceeded to put up a short jumper that hit nothing but net.
“Tate made the right read,” Musselman said about the final play after a description of it for the basketball nerds.
I don’t get into the technical talk … all I care about are the results, which in the NCAA have seen Davis play the best of any freshman on the team. Moses Moody is the guy everyone expects to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft, but Davis has played better in the clutch in the postseason.
As is so often the case, what Davis has improved most is his defense. Amazing how many guys that play really good defense come up big in clutch situations.
“Devo has turned into one of the best defenders in college basketball,” Musselman said. “He was pretty far behind defensively, he worked and he grew. He continued to come into practice. He continued to watch film. He continued to study.”
He didn’t lose his swagger waiting for the minutes he played each game to grow along with his experience.
“Devo’s been walking around with sunglasses,” Musselman said. “He’s feeling pretty good about the way he’s playing. “The last 48 hours he’s been wearing sunglasses into our dinners or breakfasts. Even when the sun’s not out he’s wearing them.
“Maybe I ought to start wearing a pair as well.”
That wouldn’t be that surprising, honestly.
Getting the Hogs back to a place they haven’t been close to in 26 years has exceeded even the dreams of most of the hardcore of one of the most bipolar fan bases in the country.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be in an Elite Eight just our second year,” Musselman said. “I really can’t describe it.”
He doesn’t want to stop at eight, either.
But the hill gets taller and steeper against Baylor on Monday night.
Musselman knows it … and is probably relishing it.