Arkansas falls to Duke, 78-69, in Elite Eight on Saturday in San Francisco


By Kevin McPherson

The 17th-ranked and 4-seed Arkansas Razorbacks were hoping to reach the Final Four after a 27-year absence, but instead it was 9th-ranked and 2-seed Duke that captured the NCAA Tournament West Region with a 78-69 Elite Eight win over the Hogs on Saturday at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., giving iconic Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski a record 13th Final Four berth in what will be the last of the retiring coach’s 42 seasons at Duke.

Arkansas (28-9) ended its season with back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, a first in the program in 27 years (1993-94 and ’94-95). Meanwhile, Duke (32-6) advances to the national semifinals on Saturday, April 2, in New Orleans to face the winner of East Region 8-seed North Carolina and 15-seed St. Peter’s as those two teams will square off in their regional finals tomorrow.

With the loss, the Hogs dropped to 2-2 all-time against the Blue Devils with the teams’ previous meeting resulting in a 76-72 Arkansas win in the ’93-94 national championship game in early April 1994.

Duke put an emphasis on driving the ball into the paint and winning the rebounding battle, and the result was a 12-point halftime lead and a double-digit advantage for most of the second half. The Blue Devils handled the Hogs’ vaunted defense in both halves — 29-of-53 field goals (54.7%), including 4-of-10 from 3 (40.0%) — while dominating rebounds (34-25) and points-in-the-paint (46-34). Duke also fared better getting to the free throw line against the No. 1 per-game free-throws-attempted team in the nation — 16-of-18 freebies for the Blue Devils (88.9%) compared to 11-of-11 at the foul line for the Hogs (100%). Arkansas had one of its typical shooting games — 26-of-62 field goals (41.9%), including 6-of-20 from 3 (30.0%) — and the Hogs did win the turnovers (15-11) and points-off-turnovers (21-12).

Arkansas managed to pull within 5 points, 53-48, at the 13:19 mark of the second half, but Duke punched back with a heavy 10-0 run that extended the Blue Devils to a commanding 63-48 lead with 10:20 to play. The Devils would lead by double-digits from there before a Hogs’ layup with 0:39 showing provided the final 9-point margin.

Sophomore big man Jaylin Williams of Fort Smith led the Hogs with his 16th double-double of the season and his 4th consecutive in as many NCAAT games — 19 points (8-of-17 field goals and 3-of-3 free throws), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 drawn charges in 34 minutes. He ended the season with a Division 1-leading 54 drawn charges. Senior guard JD Notae finished with 14 points — one shy of reaching 2,000 career points between stops at Arkansas and Jacksonville — as he fouled out with 3:47 to play. Senior 3/4-combo forward Stanley Umude had 14 points and 2 blocks in 35 minutes. Sophomore guard Devo Davis of Jacksonville chipped in 9 points (4-of-7 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3), 3 rebounds, and 1 assist in 28 minutes. Senior forwards Au’Diese Toney and Trey Wade combined for 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals.

Notae and Williams were named to the West Region all-tournament team.

Freshman wing AJ Griffin led Duke with 18 points; versatile 6-10 forward Paolo Banchero had 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists; junior small forward Wendell Moore, Jr., contributed 14 points; sophomore 7-footer Mark Williams had a double-double — 12 points and 12 rebounds to go with 3 blocks. Guards Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels each scored 9 points.

“I thought the way we ended the first half really hurt us,” third-year Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said after the game, referring to an 8-0 Duke run that extended the Blue Devils to a 12-point lead at the break. “We lost momentum going into the locker room. We got beat by a better team tonight, that’s what happened. You know, our defense did not hold up as it had all season long. Rebounding. They’re a really, really good basketball team. You have to tip your hat to them, and they won the game. It’s a really good basketball team.”

Despite the disappointment of the loss, Musselman did not lose sight of what his team accomplished during the ’21-22 campaign.

“We’re really proud of them,” Musselman said of what he told his players after the game. “You know, ‘Don’t hang your heads, it’s hard to make an Elite Eight, really hard.’ We have some guys in that locker room that have done it now in back-to-back years. We’re proud of the effort we put forth all year.”

The only SEC team to advance beyond the first weekend of NCAAT games, Arkansas fell to 3-1 this season against Associated Press Top 10-ranked teams (includes 2-0 against No. 1-ranked teams), 5-2 this season against AP Top 25-ranked teams, and 6-5 all-time in Elite Eight matchups. The Razorbacks lost for only the 4th time in their last 22 games as they reached 28 wins in a season for the first time in 27 years (the ’94-95 Hogs finished 32-7). They finished 11-8 in games played outside their home at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville this season, which now includes a 6-4 mark in neutral-site games.

The Hogs — 48-34 all-time in the Big Dance — slipped to 6-2 in the NCAAT spanning the past two seasons, which includes a 1-2 record against teams with a better NCAAT seeding (a win against overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga this season, a loss against No. 2 seed Duke this season, and a loss against No. 1 seed and eventual national champion Baylor last season). Arkansas is now 11-6 all-time as a 4-seed and 11-10 all-time playing out of the West Region.

The Razorbacks own the SEC’s best overall record (53-16) and best mark in all league games (28-11 when combining SEC regular-season matchups with SECT contests) going back to the start of the ’20-21 season.

Musselman dropped to 73-28 as Head Hog, which includes a 9-4 record in postseason games (6-2 in NCAAT and 3-2 in SECT). He’s reached two Elite Eights at Arkansas in back-to-back seasons, and he has three Sweet 16s in his seven seasons as a Division 1 head coach (includes his four years at Nevada, 2015-2019).

Musselman went with his preferred starting five of Notae, Williams, Umude, Toney, and Wade.

The Hogs jumped ahead to a 9-6 lead, but Duke took control of the offensive glass and attacked the paint relentlessly with drives to go up 22-14.

Williams scored 7 consecutive points for the Hogs before Davis took a turn doing the same, but Duke was still in the lead, 33-28, late in the first half.

Arkansas pulled within 37-33 on two made free throws by senior guard Chris Lykes with 2:14 remaining in the first half, but Duke closed out with an 8-0 run — including its first two made three-pointers of the game — to surge ahead by 12 points, 45-33, at the break as Arkansas went without a field goal in the final 3:14 of the first half..

Duke made 17-of-31 from the field (54.8%), including 2-of-5 from 3 (40.0%), and 9-of-10 from the foul line (90.0%) in the opening half. The Blue Devils were plus-10 on the glass (22-12) and plus-16 in points-in-the-paint (30-14).

Arkansas hit 13-of-32 field goals (40.6%), including 4-of-11 from 3 (36.4%), and 3-of-3 free throws in the first 20 minutes. The Hogs were plus-2 in turnovers (7-5) and plus-2 in points-off-turnovers (8-6).

Notae led the Hogs with 8 first-half points while Williams and Davis each had 7.

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