INDIANAPOLIS — Davonte Davis hit a short jumper with 2.9 seconds left, and Arkansas advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in 26 years with a 72-70 win over Oral Roberts in the South Region semifinals Saturday night.
The Muss Bus grinded its gears through the first half into the second, bad shots and even worse defense putting Arkansas in a 12-point hole against the 15th-seeded Golden Eagles.
Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks (25-6) got their Pig Sooie swagger back, turning defensive stops into early offense opportunities and offensive rebounds into points.
It came down to one final shot and Davis made it, sending Arkansas to the Elite Eight for the first time since the Nolan Richardson “40 Minutes of Hell” days.
Next up for the Razorbacks is face top-seeded Baylor in what should be a fast-paced South Region final on Monday.
The let-it-fly Golden Eagles (18-11) let history slip through their grasp.
Within reach of becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight, Oral Roberts stumbled with a series of turnovers and missed shots.
Max Abmas did his best to put the Golden Eagles in the Elite Eight for the first time in 47 years, scoring 25 points. His 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the front of the rim.
The Golden Eagles had history on their minds. Florida Gulf Coast was the only other No. 15 seed to get this far in 2013 and lost at the regional semifinal round.
Oral Roberts knew it had a chance to top it against the Razorbacks after playing them earlier in the season. Oral Roberts led by 10 at halftime in Fayetteville on Dec. 20 before Arkansas bullied the Golden Eagles in the second half for an 87-76 win.
The Golden Eagles went chest-to-chest with the Razorbacks from the start of their first Sweet 16 game since 1974, contesting shots at the rim and chasing out to the arc to prevent open looks. Arkansas helped them out with some difficult shots attempts, going 1 for 7 from 3 in the first half.
The Razorbacks tried to make it difficult on Abmas, trapping him in most pick-and-roll situations. The nation’s leading scorer still found a way to get his points, with 12 in the first half. Carlos Jurgens, who averages 5.7 points per game, took advantage of repeatedly being left open, scoring 11 to help Oral Roberts lead 35-28 at halftime.
The Golden Eagles continued making shots in the second half as the Razorbacks kept taking bad ones, stretching the lead to 46-34.
But Arkansas had already been in this position once before, needing “24 Minutes of Hell” to outlast another upstart, Colgate, to open the NCAA Tournament.
Just like that game, the Razorbacks snapped out of it, playing better defense and getting to the rim instead of throwing up contested shots. Arkansas chipped the lead down to four midway through and finally caught, then passed, the Golden Eagles into the Elite Eight.