Arkansas Coach Tears Jersey To Celebrate Victory Over Defending Champion Kansas

Arkansas Coach Tears Jersey To Celebrate Victory Over Defending Champion Kansas

  • US News
  • March 19, 2023
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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Eric Musselman and his players rushed across the stage at last Summer’s to celebrate with their gleefully insane friends from Arkansas.

The 58-year-old coach jumped onto the press table, ripped off his red polo shirt and waved it overhead while yelling the whole time, to the delight of fans, in what has become his tradition after his biggest wins.

And this was a really big one.

Kansas’ national title defense ended Saturday in the second round of the NCAA tournament when Arkansas’ Ricky Council IV made five free throws in the closing seconds and the eighth-ranked Razorbacks beat the Jayhawks 72-71.

ERIC MUSSELMAN WITH HIS SHIRT OFF πŸ˜‚

The coach was hyped after Arkansas upset the No. 1 seed and defending champion Kansas.pic.twitter.com/NbbG5GsnkB

β€” ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 19, 2023

“I’d love to lie and say I felt relaxed, but we only led by 1:43,” he said. β€œThis has been the most challenging and up and down season I have ever experienced.

β€œFor these guys to be rewarded for hanging in there and going to Las Vegas and being able to compete with only 16 teams left. … It’s really hard to do this tournament. It’s really hard to win a game in this tournament. It’s really hard to beat the defending champion, the No. 1 seed. We made it.”

Arkansas played at No. 1 for the third straight year. Last year, the Razorbacks beat Gonzaga en route to their second straight Elite Eight. This time, the Razorbacks survived shaky offensive play early and foul problems late. They became the first team to defeat a No. 1 seed with three players ruled out by fouling OptaSTATS.

“This is such an incredible asset to our program,” Musselman said. “I keep telling people we’re getting better. Not many teams can get better this time of year. I’ve never been so proud of a team as I am today.”

Vomte Davis scored 25 points and Council added 21 as Arkansas recovered from a 12-point deficit in the second half. Kansas, playing without ailing coach Bill Self, became the second top seed not to escape the first weekend of the tournament after Purdue lost to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday night.

Arkansas (22-13) is in the Sweet 16 for the third straight year and will play either Saint Mary’s or UConn in Thursday’s West Region semifinals in Las Vegas.

Self has been with the Jayhawks (28-8) since arriving in Des Moines and has attended practice sessions and meetings, but he still didn’t feel well enough to coach a game after undergoing heart surgery on March 8 used to clear clogged arteries.

Longtime assistant Norm Roberts was acting coach in Self’s absence for the fifth straight season.

Kansas, seeking to become the first repeat national champion since Florida in 2006-07, led 35-27 at halftime and lost for the first time in 27 games as they went into the second half with a lead. Kansas was 47-0 in the NCAA tournament when they led by eight points or more at halftime.

“Our boys have been great all year,” Roberts said. β€œThey fought to the end, played big games. It was tough not having Coach here, but we don’t make excuses. We have to line up and get it done and we fell a bit short today.”

Davis scored 21 of his points in the second half. He fouled with 1:56 left and turned the matter over to the Veteran Council, a Wichita State transfer that scored nine of the Razorbacks’ last 11 points.

“This team was struggling and we figured it out,” Davis said. “I’m glad we did it at the right time. Hopefully we will continue.”

Devo Davis’ 21-point blast in the second half helped Arkansas defeat No. 1 Kansas and get promoted to the Sweet 16. He got where he wanted with his impressive power and speed, finished with rim contact, showed some shooting ability and was all over the glass. pic.twitter.com/F5rD4wUUW4

β€” Jonathan Giveny (@DraftExpress) March 19, 2023

Outside the dressing room, a sobbing Musselman hugged Davis and exclaimed, “I (expletively) love you man!”

The Council free throw gave Arkansas a 68-67 lead with 24 seconds left. He then rebounded his own second free throw miss and made two more to give the Razorbacks a three-point lead.

The teams traded free throws, and Arkansas sent Kansas’ Jalen Wilson down the line with three seconds left to prevent a potential three-pointer. Wilson made the first free throw and appeared to be trying to miss the second on purpose, but he tipped hard off the glass and into it, and Kansas never regained possession.

Wilson led the Jayhawks by 20 points but complained that he only got four rebounds, which he believes was a factor in giving Arkansas a 15-2 advantage in second chance points. No missed rebound hurt more, he said, than when Kansas failed to catch the ball in the final seconds of Council’s missed free throw.

“It always comes down to a game, especially hustle games like this,” Wilson said. “It’s just disappointing to end like this, especially considering how great our year has been. Give them credit for how they played.”

Arkansas, who defeated Illinois in the first round, was considered a scary matchup for the Jayhawks with their explosive transition play and ability to play lockdown defense.

But circumstances were far from ideal for the Razorbacks. Guard Anthony Black pinched a nagging ankle injury early on and went to the bench for re-taping and a shoe change, and fellow guard and projected senior NBA draft pick Nick Smith Jr. caught two quick fouls and was limited to 10 minutes and no points in the first half. Big man Kamani Johnson was also sick and playing with a sore toe.

The Razorbacks were too eager to shoot 3-pointers early. They missed 8 of 9 in the first half and couldn’t get their running game going.

Kansas had control at times but could never hold off the Razorbacks.

Davis started a crucial 11-0 run at Arkansas midway through the second half, and Jordan Walsh’s 3-pointer with eight minutes left gave the Razorbacks their first lead since their first basket of the game.

Arkansas neutralized Wilson when it mattered most, allowing the All-American just two shots in 15 minutes of the second half.

Arkansas is in the Sweet 16 for the 14th time. The only lower-strung Razorbacks team to reach a regional semifinal was the 1996 squad, which under Nolan Richardson, who led the school to its only national title two years earlier, the number was 12.

As Musselman reaches his first Final Four, he will evoke more memories of those glory years.

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