The first 2 1/2 hours of Tuesday's SEC matchup between Kentucky and Arkansas were an interminable slog marred by blown calls, lengthy monitor reviews and an endless stream of whistles.
The last sequence more than made up for it.
Needing a basket to prevent double overtime after Kentucky's James Young had tied the game with a 3-pointer seconds earlier, Arkansas junior Rashad Madden tried a contested shot from the right corner with two seconds to go. Madden's shot hit the back iron and bounced high in the air, but guard Michael Qualls snuck in from the left wing, corralled the miss and slammed home a thunderous two-handed put-back dunk with two-tenths of a second left to give Arkansas an 87-85 victory.
The culprit for Kentucky on the game-ending sequence was the same player who had been hailed as a hero only a few minutes earlier. Andrew Harrison sank a 3-pointer from the right corner to force overtime at the end of regulation, but he failed to box out Qualls at the end of overtime, watching Madden's shot flat-footed in the paint rather than putting a body on the man he was guarding. Young also had a chance to box out Qualls but he was late reacting.
"The last shot, the kid watched," Kentucky coach John Calipari lamented to reporters in Fayetteville after the game. "My guy watched. The guy ran by him and dunked it. Well, he’s a freshman, and that’s what freshmen do.
Qualls' dunk was a potential season-saving play for Arkansas considering its Jekyll-and-Hyde home-road reputation.
Having already squandered a chance at a marquee home win against Florida three days earlier, Arkansas (12-4, 1-2) could not afford to let its chance to beat the SEC's other powerhouse also slip away. No more chances for Top 25 home wins would have remained on the schedule and the Razorbacks' history of road futility under Mike Anderson suggests that an upset of an SEC contender away from home is unlikely.
For youthful Kentucky (12-4, 2-1), the loss was disappointing yet also a learning experience.
On one hand, the Wildcats showed poise and toughness battling from behind in a hostile environment in which Arkansas had won 23 straight games before Saturday's loss to Florida. On the other hand, Kentucky's only quality win came against a Louisville team who hasn't beaten anyone of note, so the Wildcats certainly could have used a solid road win to bolster their resumé.
Ultimately, however, it was Arkansas who celebrated wildly at mid-court and Kentucky who walked to the locker room dejectedly. A game that featured 60 personal fouls and lasted nearly three hours rewarded fans who kept watching with one of the wildest finishes of the season.