BUFFALO, N.Y. - For the first time since three straight trips to the Sweet 16 from 1993-95, the Arkansas Razorbacks are headed back to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season thanks to a hard-fought 53-48 win over New Mexico State inside KeyBank Center on Saturday night.
The Razorbacks and Aggies put on a defensive clinic with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Both teams struggled to score in the first half until, a 10-0 Arkansas run finally provided some separation. The Hogs held the Aggies to just 24% shooting in the first half, including 2-for-15 from 3-point range. The defense allowed Arkansas to take a nine-point lead into the break but defense was the theme of the night, including the second half.
New Mexico State battled back to open the second frame, applying defensive clamps of their own and holding Arkansas to just three made field goals over nearly the first 12 minutes of the half. While the Razorbacks were struggling to score, the Aggies chipped away at the lead to finally take their first lead of the night 33-32 with an and-1 from Johnny McCants.
The Razorbacks' response changed the game for good. Jaylin Williams immediately answered McCants' three-point play with a pair of free throws to put Arkansas back in front. Two more free throws from JD Notae pushed the lead to three and a 3-pointer from Stanley Umude kept it rolling. Au'Diese Toney's breakaway dunk capped the 9-0 run and swung momentum the Hogs' way with 6:06 remaining.
For the second straight game, free throws made the difference down the stretch. Toney's slam that capped the 9-0 rally would be the last Arkansas field goal of the night but the Hogs iced it from the charity stripe making 9-of-10, including 4-for-4 from Chris Lykes, to seal the victory.
Notae led all scorers with 18 points while also matching the school record for steals in an NCAA Tournament game with eight. Williams notched his second double-double in as many games and his 14th of the season with 10 points and an NCAA Tournament school record 15 rebounds. Umude added nine points and eight boards.
The Razorbacks' defensive lockdown of New Mexico State's Teddy Allen was impressive. After scoring 37 points against UConn on Thursday, the Hogs held Allen to just 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
The Razorbacks shot just .275 from the field (14 of 51) and made just 3 of 16 attempts from 3-point range (.188), but also held the Aggies to .340 shooting from the field (18 of 53) and 6-of-26 shooting on 3-pointers (.231).
- The Razorbacks' second consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16 is the first since Arkansas' program record three straight in 1993, '94 and '95.
- Arkansas allowed the second fewest points for a first half in an NCAA Tournament game, allowing just 20 points. The Razorbacks' school record is 18 against Wyoming in 1941 - the Hogs' first-ever NCAA Tournament game. (HogStats)
- Jaylin Williams broke the school record for rebounds by a Razorback in the NCAA Tournament with 15 boards. Five different Hogs were tied for the record with 14, including Justin Smith who matched the mark last season.
- JD Notae's eight steals set a new career-best mark, passing his previous of high of seven vs. Mercer, and matched the Arkansas record for steals in an NCAA Tournament game held by Alvin Robertson, who did it twice.
The Razorbacks advance to the Sweet 16 to take on top-seeded Gonzaga. The Hogs will travel to the West Coast regardless to play inside the Chase Center, the home of the Golden State Warriors, on either Thursday, March 24.