Beyond the Box: Devo Davis, Ricky Council will Arkansas to third straight Sweet 16

The Arkansas Razorbacks are STILL DANCING!

Arkansas is headed to a third consecutive Sweet 16 after a dramatic, last-second victory over the defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks, 72-71.

Kansas led 35-27 at halftime after the Razorbacks struggled to get into a rhythm offensively and had four players in foul trouble. The Jayhawks also had history on their side as they were 47-0 when leading by eight or more at halftime in the NCAA Tournament.

Then, Devo Davis and Ricky Councilin showed up in a legendary way over the final 20 minutes of action. The two combined for 32 of Arkansas’ 45 second half points and were able to keep the Razorbacks afloat at critical moments down the stretch.

Let’s go beyond the box to take a closer look at how the Hogs were able to overcome a double-digit deficit and keep dancing into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament once again.

A pair of legendary performances lift the Hogs

(Photo by Reese Strickland – USA TODAY Sports)

In the rich and storied history of Arkansas basketball there have been countless tournament performances that can be deemed legendary. Now, it’s Devo Davis’ turn to have his rightful place among all-time great Razorback tournament performances.

After struggling in the first half to score just four points on 2-6 shooting from the floor (0-2 from three), Davis erupted to score 21 points in the second half in one of the most impressive individual performances from a Razorback in tournament history. He went 7-9 from the field (1-2 from three), 6-7 from the charity stripe while recording 4 rebounds (2 offensive rebounds) and a plus/minus of +7. All of this was before he fouled out with just 1:56 left in the game.

In case you couldn’t tell, Davis left it all on the court and seeing his team pick up the win meant a lot to him.

There was another Razorback player who played well down the stretch and is deserving of his own flowers. Ricky Council picked up where he left off against Illinois on Thursday by going for 21 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

Council’s shooting wasn’t great – he finished just 5-18 from the floor – but his mindset to continue to attack the basket on Kansas made the key difference. Arkansas continued to get into the paint and try to draw fouls in the second half, which led to 11 free throw attempts for Council – 10 of which, he made and changed the game for the Hogs.

His defining moment came when he missed the second of two free throws, but Jordan Walsh tipped the rebound. The ball then ricocheted off of Kansas’ Jalen Wilson and landed right back in Council’s hands. Council went right at the Jayhawks defense and was able to draw two more free throw attempts, which helped give the Hogs a 3-point lead.

Both Davis and Council etched their names in Arkansas basketball lore forever after tonight.

Kamani Johnson and Jordan Walsh delivered again

(Photo by Reese Strickland – USA TODAY Sports)

Kamani Johnson and Jordan Walsh led the production of the role players in the Razorbacks’ first round win over Illinois. I said after that game that they’d need to continue to step up and both did in spectacular fashion.

[autotag]Jordan Walsh[/autotag] once again was able to affect the game all over the court despite not having a ton of stats in the box score. He was the third Razorback in double-figures and hit a huge 3-pointer to give Arkansas their first lead of the second half. That doesn’t exactly highlight his contributions as accurately as this next point does. Once again, Walsh finished with the highest plus/minus of anyone on either team, +12. That means the Hogs were 12 points better when he was on the floor.

[autotag]Kamani Johnson[/autotag] was just as incredible as Walsh despite also not impacting the box score a whole lot. Johnson finished with just 4 points, but grabbed 10 rebounds. 6 of those 10 were offensive rebounds. Including this crucial offensive rebound and putback to give Arkansas a 67-65 lead with under a minute left.

He was the catalyst for Arkansas out-rebounding Kansas 15-7 on the offensive glass and outscoring the Jayhawks 15-2 on second chance points.

These two guys starred in their roles and without their efforts, Arkansas wouldn’t be in the Sweet 16 again.

Overcoming adversity

(Photo by Jeffrey Becker – USA TODAY Sports)

The key theme in this game was: overcoming adversity. In fact, this win was a poetic metaphor for the Razorbacks’ entire 2022-23 season.

Early in the game, [autotag]Nick Smith Jr.[/autotag] had to sit with two fouls and shortly after, [autotag]Anthony Black[/autotag] tweaked his ankle on a play and have to also sit for a short period. Without their two stud freshman guards, Arkansas would need Devo Davis and Ricky Council to set the tone early.

Both Smith and Black returned but were mostly ineffective and afterthoughts for stretches while Davis and Council showed out. Despite tweaking his ankle again, Black pushed himself and played 37 minutes. Smith just never could get going but instead of forcing the issue, like he’s done at times, he understood his role and assignment and was able to do what was needed. Let the other guys do their thing.

When Arkansas got down 11 points early in the second half, fans probably expected the team to shut down and collapse like we had at numerous different times this season. Instead, they put their heads down and pushed harder. The chipped away at the Jayhawk lead with aggressive drives to the rim and tenacious defense, before eventually taking the lead on a Walsh 3-pointer. It was a cathartic experience to watch this team overcome some of the adversity that plagued them this season, over the course of a single game.

The emotion we saw in the locker room after the game was, in part, due to how much of a roller coaster season this has been. But this goes to show that you should never count out an [autotag]Eric Musselman[/autotag]-coached team under any circumstances.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire