Arkansas beats Illinois, advances in NCAA Tournament

The 8-seed Arkansas Razorbacks kept their season alive with a 73-63 win over 9-seed Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.

Right from the first tip, Arkansas’ tempo was noticeably too much for the Illini. The Razorbacks led for 37:15 of the game and forced 17 turnovers by the Illini.

Ricky Council IV recorded a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Davonte Davis added 16 points and six boards.

Here’s a recap of Thursday’s contest, which was Arkansas’ third straight first round victory in the NCAA Tournament.

An 0-of-7 performance from the field to start the game didn’t affect the Razorbacks too much, as they then hit their next three shots and went on an 8-0 run while holding the Illini scoreless for a 4:51 period.

Despite having a shoeless Matthew Mayer for at least for possessions, the Illini managed to keep things within reach courtesy of a trio of steals from Coleman Hawkins. The under-12 media timeout came just in time for Mayer, who was relieved to put his shoe back on with his team down 12-7.

Both teams began the game a combined 8-of-30 from the field, and there were six total steals and nine turnovers by the midway mark of the first half.

Arkansas’ lead grew to 11 by the 7:30 mark, and Illinois was shooting just 22.2% from the field at that point.

The Illini started knocking down three balls, but the duo of Anthony Black and Council combined to go on a quick 9-3 run to give the Razorbacks a 14-point advantage at the final media timeout of the first half.

After having zero points in the first 16:10 of the game, Illinois star guard Terrence Shannon Jr. scored eight in just over two minutes to trim the Razorbacks’ lead to 34-26 with just under two minutes left in the first half.

A Kamani Johnson put-back layup closed out the scoring in the first 20 minutes, and gave Arkansas a 36-26 lead at the break. The Hogs were plus-nine on the boards and they shot 42.4% from the field compared to Illinois 27.6% in the first half.

The Illini began the second half on a 7-2 run to cut the Arkansas lead to five less than three minutes in. A pair of free throws from Black and back-to-back buckets from Davis put the Razorbacks back in front by 11 with just under 14 minutes to play.

Makhi Mitchell put a spin move on the defender and laid in his second basket of the game to give Arkansas a game-best (at that point) 15-point lead that forced an Illinois timeout with 12:23 to play.

Arkansas went ahead by 17, but Illinois cut that down to nine by the under-8 media timeout with an 8-0 personal run from RJ Melendez.

The Illini stuck around and a 7-0 run allowed them to cut the Arkansas lead to 62-57 with 2:29 to play.

A steal from Davis turned into a transition layup for Council and that was the back-breaker for Illinois.

The Razorbacks knocked down nine shots at the free throw line late in the game to keep the lead out of reach and live to fight another day.

Up next, the Razorbacks will take on the 1-seed Kansas Jayhawks in the Round of 32 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. The game time and channel will be announced at a later time.