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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Arkansas sticks to hearty defense in victory

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With nine seconds left Thursday night, the referees went to the review monitor after first claiming two Vermont players knocked the ball off Arkansas' JD Notae.

Arkansas led 73-71, and the Catamounts would be inbounding on their end of the court.

The review was a waste of time. All they had to do was ask. It happened right in front of your trusty scribe, and they made the right call when they reversed the initial call.

Hog ball.

Saint Paddy's Day was one of upsets at the NCAA Tournament.

If not for a heart and soul defensive effort by the Arkansas Razorbacks, they would have joined Kentucky, a No. 2 seed who lost to No. 15 Saint Peter's, and the others who were having a long lonely plane ride home after one day of the Big Dance.

Vermont was almost as good as all the talking head experts who picked them over the Razorbacks said, but the Hogs survived and advanced to Saturday for a game with No. 12 seed New Mexico State.

After the review, Notae was fouled and made both free throws for a final score of 75-71, but it was closer than that.

Considering Arkansas finished with four of its best players weighed down with four fouls, the Razorbacks' defensive effort had some luck, too.

Anyone would need both to get by Vermont, which was noted as a long-range shooting team but played defense like it was in the SEC.

There were nine lead changes, and the final one was Razorback red and, while the most cushion the Hogs could get was nine points, 67-58 with 4:25 to play.

Instead of tip-toeing through the tulips, the Catamounts roared back behind a combination of three-pointers and layups and their own form of breath-stealing defense.

The 67-59 lead came on a field goal by Notae, but it would be the Razorbacks' last one.

They made 8 of 10 free throws in the last furlong of a distance race during which both teams left everything on the floor.

Notae got in foul trouble early and never found the range on three-pointers, going 1 of 7. But as he does so often and so quietly, Stanley Umude stepped up big.

The senior transfer had 21 points and nine rebounds.

Arkansas didn't fire out of the gate to start the game and Vermont hit a few threes to take a 13-8 lead. But Eric Musselman had already inserted Davonte Davis, and it paid off.

The sophomore from Jacksonville hit a three from the corner and a baseline jumper to tie it at 13-13 and then hit two inside field goals for a 17-13 lead going into a media timeout.

Coming out of the break, Notae had a rare moment when he missed two free throws, but Davis was about to kick it into overdrive.

He made a steal, and raced downcourt for a layup, drawing a foul and he coolly finished off the three-point play.

Williams bulled his way through three defenders for two.

Umude blocked a shot and then made a spin move on offense for a 22-17 lead.

The Catamounts, who had missed more than they made for about 10 minutes, managed to tie it at 27-27 with 1:47 to play, but it was all Hog ball down the stretch of the first half.

Williams got two after a perfect pass from Davis, Umude hit a three and Chris Lykes hit a pair of free throws for a 34-27 halftime lead.

It was a wild crazy day of March Madness and created a lot of sadness among some of the heavily-favored teams, but the Arkansas Razorbacks stuck with their game plan.

They never wavered and when they got hit with four fouls in four minutes to start the second half, they huddled with arms around each other.

They settled down. They survived and advanced.

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