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FAYETTEVILLE — In front of the largest crowd in Bud Walton Arena history, and new football offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, the Arkansas Razorbacks pulled off an 80-75 upset over the No. 7 Duke Blue Devils.
As “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby” chants echoed throughout the gym all evening, the Hoop Hogs fed off the energy of 20,344 fans to down one of college basketball’s most storied programs for the first time since the 1994 national championship game.
“I don’t think you see many environments like this,” Duke head coach Jon Scheyer told reporters after the game. “It’s a different kind of thing.”
Even before the game the traffic was worse, there were more people waiting outside, national media were flooding in and students had their seats filled by the time the 60-minute pregame timer started.
It was a must-win for the Razorbacks, who had lost three of their last four, including each of their last two against Memphis and North Carolina.
You could feel the energy. Legendary head coach Nolan Richardson, who led Arkansas to a 1994 national championship win over Duke, received a standing ovation from students as he walked to his seat before the game. You could tell it was going to be a loud night.
“Incredible home crowd tonight,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said after the game. “I mean, just an insane environment. Real cool to experience that, even as kind of an old guy.”
After the starting lineups were read — with Devo Davis receiving the loudest ovation as usual — the crowd was the loudest I’ve ever heard it before a game. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas agreed.
When Davis laid in the first basket for the Razorbacks at the 19:16 mark in the first half, you would’ve thought they just won on a buzzer beater with the crowd pop.
The first half featured its fair share of loud cheers, explicit chants from students and 20 minutes of basketball that was about as even as it gets until the buzzer went off.
Both teams had five turnovers, Arkansas hit just two more shots from the field, Duke made four more free throws and the Hogs won the battle on the boards by four.
The difference in Arkansas holding a 33-32 lead at the break? Cincinnati transfer Jeremiah Davenport knocking down a pair of threes that sparked electricity into Bud Walton Arena and gave the Hogs a one-point advantage over the nation’s No. 7 team.
After a halftime that featured more “Bobby” chants for Petrino, the camera operator put Nolan Richardson on the big screen. Arkansas fans gave a standing ovation and stayed on their feat for the second half.
Arkansas outscored Duke by a score of 18-11 to start the second half, and a heat-check three ball from Temple transfer Khalif Battle dropped in the bucket and the fans let loose. Duke dribbled up the timeline, called for a timeout and Arkansas guard El Ellis beat his chest and screamed toward the the Razorback students.
The Razorbacks held onto the lead for the remainder of the second half, and by the time the final media timeout buzzer went off, the Arkansas students were flooding towards the court.
While the students packed in like sardines, the players struggled on the court. Arkansas had four turnovers in the final three minutes and it allowed Duke within three at one point. With an immense amount of pressure to finish things off and release the parade of students on the court, the Hogs pulled through.
“One of the coolest things ever is to see student-athletes celebrate,” Musselman said. “They put so much work into it, you know? We don’t have the record that we were hopeful to have. You lose tonight’s game, now all of a sudden you’re .500, and then you’re wondering that you have to get some signature wins.
“There was a lot of pressure on tonight’s game — a lot. I thought our guys responded. We let them know where we were. We didn’t act like, ‘Hey, it’s early in the season. We’ve got time.’ It was discussed that it was a must-win for us. And then for them to have internal pressure, external pressure, crowd pressure, and then to be able to get a win is huge.”
With Musselman being the transfer portal guru he is, chances are he is going to recruit players that come from programs that don’t win much. Guard El Ellis transferred in from a Louisville program that won just four games last season.
“That was insane,” Ellis said. “I haven’t had that experience in college basketball, except for the Purdue game. For me, I really was just excited to be out there and play. The crowd played a big part, though, it’s tough to play in there with all those people screaming and yelling. I feel like that home court advantage is different when it’s packed out like that.”
There might not have been a team in college basketball that would’ve beat Arkansas in Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday and that can be heavily attributed to the Razorback faithful.
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