Arkansas Survives Nail-Biter with Oral Roberts Advancing to Elite 8 For First Time Since 1995

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A second shot at Oral Roberts came with higher stakes and required another rally from a 12-point second-half deficit, but freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis hit a go-ahead, pull-up jumper with 3.1 seconds remaining as the No. 3 seed Arkansas Razorbacks survived upset-worthy and 15th-seeded Oral Roberts, 72-70, on Saturday in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 (a.k.a. South Region semifinals) inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, sending Arkansas to the program’s first Elite Eight in 26 years and its 11th in program history.

Following Davis’ score and a couple of timeouts, ORU guard Max Abmas — the nation’s leading scorer at 24.5 points per game — took an inbound pass underneath the Arkansas basket and speed-dribbled to the right wing where he just missed on a three-point attempt as time expired. It was the second time this season the Razorbacks trailed ORU by 12 points in the second half, and it was the second time against the Golden Eagles that a dominant offensive rebounding advantage for the Hogs (18-6 for an 18-8 edge in second-chance-points) was the difference in a comeback victory. The Razorbacks have won an NCAA Division 1-best 10 games after trailing by 10 or more points in 2020-21, and that includes all three of their NCAAT victories. 

The 10th-ranked Hogs (25-6) defeated Colgate and 21st-ranked Texas Tech during the first two rounds of the NCAAT last weekend, and Saturday’s victory over ORU means the Hogs have now won 12 of their last 13 games. Arkansas moves on to play No. 1 seed Baylor in the South Region finals (Elite Eight game) on Monday with the winner advancing to the Final Four that will be played next weekend.

The last time an Arkansas team made it to the Elite Eight was in ’94-95, and that team eventually advanced to the national championship game where it lost to UCLA to finish as the national runner-up. That was also the last Arkansas team to enter the NCAAT ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 (at No. 6) prior to the current Hogs doing the same (at No. 10). 

“It’s a dream come true,” Davis said of the Hogs making the Elite Eight. “I’m a freshman and it’s amazing seeing this atmosphere and being able to be a part of this team. We’re ready to play. And just know we’re coming in hard, we’re going to compete, and we’re going to get this win.”

Arkansas improved to 20-0 in games when its opponents scored 75 or fewer points. The Hogs improved to 45-32 all-time in NCAAT games, a record that now includes a 32-8 mark when the Hogs play as the higher seed relative to their opponents. The Razorbacks also moved to 4-1 as a 3-seed in the NCAAT (’91-92 Hogs were 1-1). Arkansas improved to 9-5 in away games on the season (includes a 4-1 record in neutral-site games). Arkansas reached 25 wins in a season for only the third time in the 21st century (’14-15 finished 27-9 and ’16-17 finished 26-10).

In his second campaign as Head Hog, Musselman is now 3-0 in NCAAT games at Arkansas, he’s 9-1 coaching a ranked Arkansas team, and he’s 45-18 overall at Arkansas. Musselman had reached the Sweet 16 twice (at Nevada in ’17-18 and Arkansas in ’20-21) but has now advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time.

“Really proud of our team, especially in the second half with their effort,” Musselman said in his postgame press conference. “We’ve been down now in three (NCAAT) games and found a way to come back. Regrouped again at halftime, changed up our defense a little bit more where we wanted to trap and leave certain players. Give Oral Roberts a ton of credit. I thought they played really, really well, played really hard.”

As the 15th-seed in the South Region, Oral Roberts (18-11) upset No. 2 seed Ohio State and No. 7 seed Florida to earn its way to the Sweet 16 before losing for the second time this season against Arkansas. In December at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, the Hogs overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to defeat ORU, 87-76. The Hogs are 12-2 in the all-time series against the Golden Eagles.

For those who believe in historic symmetry playing a role in the Razorbacks’ fate, the ’93-94 Hogs also defeated a mid-major team from Tulsa twice — a sweep of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane as the Hogs won in a close call in December 1993 in the regular season before winning decisively in the Sweet 16 in March 1994 to advance to the Elite Eight. Until ’20-21, that was also the last time (and only time) the Razorbacks enjoyed a 12-game winning streak against SEC teams. As it all played out, those ’93-94 Hogs went 6-0 in the NCAAT en route to winning the school’s only national championship in basketball.

Davis finished with 16 points (7-of-13 field goals and 2-of-2 free throws), 8 rebounds, and 2 assists in 34 minutes. Senior combo guard Jalen Tate led Arkansas with 22 points (9-of-17 field goals, including 1-of-3 from 3, and 6-of-7 free throws) to go with 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal in 38 minutes. Senior combo forward Justin Smith recorded his second double-double in the NCAAT, registering 12 points and 14 rebounds in 39 minutes. Freshman guard Moses Moody struggled shooting the ball — only 4-of-20, including 0-of-3 from 3 — but he scored 10 second-half points while finishing with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 steal in 38 minutes. Junior guard Desi Sills came off the bench to contribute 2 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in 28 minutes.

“We don’t run any plays for Devo, at least not right now,” Musselman said. “We will next year, obviously. He’s just a guy that just balls, he just plays … Devo was phenomenal on both sides of the ball, defensively and offensively.”

Arkansas trailed by as many as 9 points in the first half before going into the break down 7 points, 35-28, then ORU started the second half on an 11-6 run to take a 46-34 lead. Arkansas began chipping away as Moody scored 7 points as part of an 11-2 Arkansas spurt that pulled the Hogs within 48-45 with 12:44 to play.

The Golden Eagles outscored Arkansas 9-5 over the next 3:45 to grab a 57-50 lead at the 8:59 mark, setting up another Arkansas push with Davis and Tate doing most of the scoring in a 16-5 run that gave the Hogs their biggest lead of the game, 66-62, with 3:43 remaining.

Abmas’ lay-in capped a 4-0 ORU mini-spurt to tie the game at 66-all with 2:24 to play, and after Tate scored on a driving lay-in, ORU forward Kevin Obanor converted a layup-and-1 to put the Golden Eagles ahead, 69-68, at the 1:48 mark. But once again, Arkansas went to Tate who scored in the paint to put the Hogs ahead, 70-69, with 1:34 remaining.

Both teams got defensive stops over the next minute of action, but Moody fouled ORU’s Francis Lacis, who made 1-of-2 free throws with 31.5 second remaining to tie the game at 70-all. On Arkansas’ ensuing and final possession, Tate dribbled the clock down from the left side of the floor before driving right into the paint with about 7 seconds remaining and kicking to the right wing to Davis, who used a head-and-shoulders fake to freeze his defender before taking one dribble to his left and rising up to drain the game-winning 14-foot jumper with 2 seconds left on the shot clock and 3.1 seconds remaining on the game clock.

“JT Tate, he was doing really good all night attacking the rim and getting to the basket and getting fouls,” Davis said. “He attacked, they (ORU defenders) crashed in, he kicked it out, and they trust me and I knocked down a big shot. We’re dogs, we’re going to compete, and we’re going to play hard every possession.”

The Hogs were minus-1 on the glass in the first half but finished the game plus-11 rebounding (46-35), including the aforementioned dominance in offensive boards and second-chance points. The Hogs also owned the paint by outscoring the Golden Eagles 42-30 inside. Arkansas was plus-3 in turnovers (13-10) for a plus-12 win in points-off-turnovers (19-7). ORU shot the ball better than Arkansas, finishing 26-of-61 from the field (42.6%) including 8-of-31 from 3 (25.8%) compared to the Hogs’ 29-of-77 overall shooting effort (37.7%) including only 1-of-9 from 3 (11.1%). The Hogs attempted only 2 three-pointers in the second half — missing both — while focusing on driving to the basket and getting to the foul line. The Hogs made 13-of-15 free throws (86.7%) while ORU was 10-of-13 from the line (76.9%), a percentage most teams would happy with but for ORU — the nation’s leading free throw shooting team at 82.2% coming in — it was an off night at the line.

Abmas — held to only 11 points in the first meeting between the two teams — led the Golden Eagles with a game-high 25 points to go with 4 assists and 3 rebounds. Obanor, who had a 21-point and 10-rebound effort the first time out, had another double-double on Saturday as he finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore guard Carlos Jurgens had 13 points and Lacis finished with 11.

Musselman started Moody, Davis, Smith, Tate, and freshman big man Jaylin Williams for the second consecutive game.

The Hogs were up 4-3 when ORU went on a 12-3 run to go up 15-7. Arkansas strung together a 10-0 run capped by two made free throws by junior guard JD Notae to go up 17-15, but the Golden Eagles outscored the Razorbacks 20-11 to close the first half with a 35-28 lead. In the aforementioned first meeting between the two schools, ORU led Arkansas by 10 points at halftime and by as many as 12 points in both halves.

ORU made 6-of-17 first-half three-point attempts compared to Arkansas’ 1-of-7 in the first 20 minutes. Arkansas was only 11-of-35 overall shooting from the field (31.4%) and 5-of-6 from the free throw line (83.3%) while ORU was 13-of-30 on field goals (43.3%) and 3-of-4 from the foul line (75%).

Both teams suffered 7 first-half turnovers with Arkansas having a plus-5 edge in points-off-turnovers (10-5). The Hogs were minus-1 on the glass (21-20) but were plus-3 in second-chance-points (6-3) and plus-6 in points-in-the-paint (16-10).

Tate led the Hogs with 10 first-half points with Moody, Smith, and Notae scoring 4 each.

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