Desperate Arkansas enjoys much-needed reprieve in OT win
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bobby Portis committed the untimely foul at the end of regulation that nearly sent Arkansas to a crippling home loss against Alabama.
The All-Southeastern Conference sophomore more than atoned for his earlier gaffe in overtime when his buzzer-beating tip in gave the Razorbacks a much-needed 93-91 win over the Crimson Tide on Thursday night.
While Portis’ last-second shot sent the crowd into frenzy about the win, the celebration was mixed with equal parts relief for fans intent on returning to the NCAA tournament this season for the first time since 2008.
Arkansas (14-4, 3-2 SEC) had lost two in a row before the win, including a 96-82 home loss to Mississippi last week.
Even before that loss, many fans had expressed their frustration with fourth-year coach Mike Anderson on talk radio and message boards following an earlier loss at Tennessee – leaving the former assistant under Nolan Richardson to defend a team that’s been in and out of the Top 25 on two occasions this season.
”I think we’re trending in the right direction,” Anderson said. ”We had a bump. A lot of teams have bumps, and so the good teams, I think they have short-term memories and they figure out the things that they’ve got to do right to get better. This team will continue to get better, and there are times when you take a little step back.”
Late in Thursday’s game, it appeared the criticism of Anderson would reach its highest level since his return when Portis fouled Alabama’s Michael Kessens under the basket with 2.3 second remaining – giving the Crimson Tide forward a game-tying, three-point play that sent the contest to overtime.
Portis eventually had the winning basket as time expired, capping his most difficult shooting performance (4 of 12) of the season. And that was perfect turnabout for Anderson, who has watched the 6-foot-11 forward grow into the SEC’s leading scorer this season.
”It was fitting for Bobby, since what took place in regulation, for him to tip it in,” Anderson said. ”That’s the mark of a guy that, he wants to win. He wants to win in the worst way.”
Despite the win, the specter of a seventh straight season without an NCAA tournament appearance – the school’s longest stretch since an 18-year drought from 1959-77 – continues to hang over the Razorbacks when they travel to struggling Missouri (7-11, 1-4) on Saturday.
The Tigers, who Anderson coached for five seasons before returning to Arkansas, have lost four in a row and seven of nine. The Razorbacks will not Missouri for granted, not after narrowly avoiding a second straight home loss.
And don’t expect Arkansas fans to breathe a sigh of relief until the school’s NCAA drought is over.
”This win was vital for us; we don’t care how we got it,” junior Michael Qualls said. ”We could have got rattled when we fouled (Kessens) at the end and played like that, but everybody kept it on their mind that we were going to come out for the win. And Bobby made a big play for us.”