By Devin Voss | @DevinVoss23
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — With less than five seconds left on the clock, Arkansas freshman guard Davonte Davis found the ball in his hands. Just a year ago, Davis led his high school basketball team at Jacksonville to the Arkansas state tournament. With the surge of COVID-19, that game was canceled. But now, a year later, Davis, with three seconds left, pulled up for a fadeaway from mid-range, hand in his face, in the biggest game he has ever played in up to this point in his career.
Davis averaged eight points during the season, but against No.15 Oral Roberts Saturday night he led his team in scoring with 14 as the Razorbacks defeated the Golden Eagles 72-70 to advance to their first Elite 8 since 1995 when they reached the national title game.
“The last second shot, it feels good, but I can’t worry about this game,” Davis said. “I’ve got to put it behind me, and we’ve got to prepare. We’ve got 48 hours to prepare for this next game.”
No. 3-seeded Arkansas (25-6) will meet top-seeded Baylor for the South Region championship on Monday night. The Razorback win puts an end to a historic run by Oral Roberts, which came within a favorable bounce off the rim in the closing three seconds from being the first No. 15 seed to make an Elite 8. Their two-point loss is the closest any 15 seed has come to the Elite 8. Florida Gulf Coast, which made its famous run in 2013, was defeated by Florida State in a 12-point loss. Oral Roberts made its second Sweet 16 appearance, and the first since 1974.
Oral Roberts had one last chance after a timeout with three seconds to play. Max Abmas, the nation’s leading scorer who led the Golden Eagles with 25 points, broke free and squared up for a 3-pointer from the right side that bounced away as time expired.
“I think what you’re proud of is your players,” Paul Mills, Oral Roberts head coach, said. “You’re obviously disappointed in the game, but you’re proud of your players and just how they rally and how they fight and going through the ups and downs that a year like this brings, especially with COVID.”
The first half fell under the control of Oral Roberts. Though Abmas scored 12 points in the half, Carlos Jurgens played a crucial role for the Golden Eagles. After a 10-0 stretch by the Razorbacks, Jurgens poured in six points in a 10-4 Golden Eagle response highlighted by a posterizing dunk by Jurgens with 6:33 to go. His aggressive attacks at the rim provided a different dynamic for a team notable for making the most 3-point baskets per game in the NCAA.
The Razorbacks struggled to find the net despite getting open looks. Their two leading scorers, Moses Moody and Justin Smith, combined for 3-for-15 shooting in the first half. Instead, it was graduate transfer Jalen Tate who provided offense for Arkansas, going 4 for 7 for 10 points. His contributions kept the Razorbacks within range as Oral Roberts took a 35-28 halftime lead.
“Certainly, we’d all like to get out to a lead, but at the end of the day, there’s going to be runs,” Eric Musselman, Arkansas head coach, said. “Right now we’ve been a really, really good second-half team all year, and you’ve got to be able to make adjustments at halftime.
As Musselman noted, the Razorbacks have been a tremendous second-half team this season. Including the win over Oral Roberts, the Razorbacks have found themselves down at halftime in six of their last seven wins, five which were double-digit deficits.
Right on brand, the script was flipped in the second half for the Razorbacks, who started to find their shots, upping their shooting percentage by 11% to 42% compared to 31% in the first. Rebounding was also a differentiating factor in the second half as the Razorbacks outrebounded the Golden Eagles 26-14, including a 12-4 advantage on the offensive glass. Arkansas scored 12 second-chance points on those offensive boards.
Yet, despite the success from the Razorbacks, Oral Roberts managed to stick around and lead for most of the second half. The Golden Eagles were able to build upon their lead early in the second half, getting up to as high as a 46-34 lead. But Arkansas, led by Moses Moody, rumbled to an 11-2 run to bring themselves within three, and with 5:01 left in the game, the Razorbacks took their first lead since the 8:42 mark in the first half.
The lead flipped multiple times in the minutes to follow, including a clutch and-one by Kevin Obanor to put Oral Roberts up 69-68 with 1:48 left. That set up the decisive shot by David.
“It’s a dream come true,” David said. “I’ve never thought about something like this. Coming into this season, I was just trying to come in and make sure that I compete and make sure that we win games. Being able to compete for a National Championship is crazy.”
For Mills, he was proud of how far the Golden Eagles have come.
“I am so proud of our players, who they are as men, for how they represented this university, for how they represented their families, for how they fought for one another,” he said. “I’ve always felt that good players and good teams teach me more than I’ve ever had the opportunity to teach them, and that was obviously the case this year.”