Mike Anderson’s first statements after Arkansas’ 72-65 loss Sunday pretty much summed it up:
“Close don’t get it done,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to sum it up right now. I’m really kind of pissed, no — I’m kind of not necessarily ticked off, but it’s just one of those things, you had something in your hand and you let it get away.”
For a Razorback team that at times this year didn’t provide a lot of hope, this team came together after a 17-7 start and finished 26-10, which ties them for the seventh best record in school history.
Few saw that coming when the season started. After a loss to Kentucky, then a loss to hapless Missouri, quite frankly, most were thinking the NIT might be a long shot.
“These guys here, I’ll tell you what, they’re a special group,” Anderson said later. “I think the Razorback Nation — and even the nation — got a chance to see them because a lot of people didn’t even think we had a chance to come here.”
Instead, they made it to the NCAA Tournament after going to the SEC Tournament final and could have made it to the Sweet 16 if not for three things:
• Going completely scoreless for the final 3:28 of the game won’t win many tournament games.
• The bench, after scoring just 7 points against Seton Hall, put up 33 of the 65 points against North Carolina. The starters couldn’t get the shots to fall, even late.
• They didn’t get a break from the officials down the stretch on plays that appeared to be viable candidates for a whistle of some type.
That last one came when the Tar Heels’ charged down the lane, making contact with a Razorback defender, then did an NBA-type shuffle before putting up a lame shot that was rebounded and put back in, putting the Hogs down by 3.
“I thought he ran over one of our guys,” Anderson said later. “If he didn’t, he traveled.”
The non-call is the focus of a lot of fans — and many in the media — but it does detract from what may have been even more critical.
“That wasn’t the difference in the game,” Anderson said. “I just thought we had some bad turnovers at the wrong time or we didn’t get a good shot.”
It’s not unusual for NCAA Tournament games to be much more physical than the regular season. Whether officials are instructed to let the play continue more or not is not something to be answered here.
The bottom line is it’s that way nearly every year.
North Carolina was called for half as many fouls (10) as Arkansas was in the game.
“We shot eight free throws. I noticed that,” Anderson said. “And I don’t know if North Carolina plays good defense … they don’t play great defense. They had three fouls.
“We’re an attacking team. We were attacking. There were some opportunities where we were in the fastbreak mode we were attacking, getting to the basket.
“But it was called that way and of course our guys gotta play through that.”
Coaches always talk about having to adjust to the way the game is being called. No two officiating crews seem to call things exactly the same way.
That was part of the problem for the Hogs. Not all of it, though.
In the final 3:28 of the game, Arkansas got off six shots and Moses Kingsley missed two free throws.
It appeared they wouldn’t have hit water if they fell out of a boat in the middle of Beaver Lake.
It was mostly Anton Beard and Daryl Macon that stepped up to fill the hole left when it became clear it wasn’t going to be Dusty Hannahs’ night.
Macon led the Hogs with 19 points, Beard added 10 and Hannahs had just 9.
“Offensively, we probably weren’t in sync,” Anderson admitted.
What kept them in the game — and created a first-half comeback after the Hogs got down early — was a tenacious defense.
“Our defense in the second half in this game was outstanding, even the first half,” he said. “We had North Carolina on their heels for the most part.
“But they did what an experienced team do: They made the plays going down the stretch.”
In the tournament, not making plays and going scoreless for the final three minutes will usually get you beat.
Against a North Carolina, take the “usually” out of there.