Justin Smith had 20 points and played a key role in a final-play defensive stop, helping Arkansas beat Texas Tech 68-66 on Sunday in the NCAA Tournament, securing the program’s first trip to the Sweet 16 in a quarter-century.
In the final seconds of a tense finish, Smith found himself defending Kyler Edwards beyond the 3-point arc. Edwards drove into the paint with Smith on his hip and missed a layup, with Arkansas guard JD Notae snagging the rebound and sprinting up court to run the final seconds out.
When it was over, coach Eric Musselman celebrated with his players, and then ran across the court to climb atop a courtside table with arms raised. As he exited after a TV interview, he ripped off his mask to yell to the Razorbacks fans once more and repeatedly pump his fist in exuberance.
“Words can’t describe it, man,” Musselman said as he munched on a piece of pizza after the game. “Myself, the staff — I mean, we’re so excited. It’s hard to make the tournament. It’s hard to win a game. It’s hard to win two games.”
The South Region’s No. 3 seed is off to the regional semifinals for the first time since 1996 under famed former coach Nolan Richardson. Next up for Arkansas (24-6) is No. 15 seed Oral Roberts, which advanced with an 81-78 win over Florida.
Star freshman Moses Moody scored 15 points for the Razorbacks, who led by 13 points after halftime only to have the sixth-seeded Red Raiders twice whittle that margin to a single point. And that came after Arkansas had climbed of its own double-figure deficit, down 10 in the first half.
Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 20 points for Texas Tech (18-11), which struggled with its shot for a long stretch only to regain its touch right as Arkansas seemed poised to pull away.
The Red Raiders climbed back with an 11-0 run, which included Chibuzo Agbo banking in a straightaway 3-pointer to bring Texas Tech within 58-57 with 5:30 left. Fittingly, Moody answered that improbable shot with one of his own, banking in a contested 3 off a crossover on the next possession.
The Red Raiders — finalists in the 2019 tournament — also had two late chances to take the lead in the final 2 minutes. But Mac McClung missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the line with 1:15 left in a 67-66 game, and then Shannon missed a shot inside with about 30 seconds left on the next possession.
“Obviously kind of a classic NCAA Tournament game,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “It could have gone either way. I was hoping it was going to be one of the games where the team that had the ball last wins it.”
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders advanced with Friday’s win against 11th-seeded Utah State, shooting nearly 57% after halftime and scoring 28 points off turnovers for the game. But they couldn’t replicate that formula, going 6 for 35 (17%) from midway through the first half until about 8 minutes left in the game. And the Red Raiders forced just nine turnovers that led to five points.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks opened the tournament by rallying from a 14-point hole in their first-round win against Colgate. Smith had 29 points in that one, then came through again by making 9 of 11 shots with six rebounds against the defensive-minded Red Raiders. Arkansas also got a boost from Jaylin Williams (10 rebounds) in his third start and fellow freshman Davonte Davis (15 points).
“It shows that we can play with anybody,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter what you throw us. We’re going to be able to compete.”
The Razorbacks will face Oral Roberts after the Golden Eagles followed their first-round upset of No. 2 seed Ohio State with another big win.