GREENVILLE, S.C. — Kennedy Meeks will haunt Arkansas’ dreams. The North Carolina senior was the best player on the court in the last 90 seconds and his blocked shot and putback with under a minute to play provided the Tar Heels the necessary edge to defeat Arkansas, 72-65, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
Top-seeded North Carolina advances to the Sweet 16 where it will play 4-seed Butler in Memphis, Tenn. Arkansas’ season is over at 26-10.
North Carolina led 68-65 with about 35 seconds left. Moses Kingsley was fouled with 25.2 left but missed both free throws, forcing the Razorbacks to foul and ultimately letting North Carolina ice things from the line.
The Razorbacks carried a 3-point lead into the final media timeout, 63-60. A Manny Watkins steal straight out of the break led to a Jaylen Barford layup and the Razorbacks suddenly had their biggest lead of the game. It didn’t stay at 5 long, as Joel Berry II hit a pair of free throws.
North Carolina (29-7), though, hadn’t made a field goal in more than four minutes until an Isaiah Hicks dunk with 2:16 left pulled the Tar Heels within a point, 65-64. He gave his team the lead seconds later after Barford missed a shot, North Carolina grabbed the rebound and he was fouled. Hicks made both from the line.
Daryl Macon had to rush a 3 on the other end with the shot clock draining, but Kennedy Meeks got a piece of it, sending it awry. Then Meeks delivered the death blow tip-in.
The two were neck-and-neck most of the second half. It took until then for Arkansas to take its first lead. The Razorbacks would lose it, then get it back. Things rarely grew to an advantage of more than 5 points.
North Carolina had just itself to blame. The Tar Heels was dominating. Arkansas was sloppily handling the ball. North Carolina was getting rebound after rebound. The Razorbacks couldn’t shoot. Everything pointed to North Carolina running away.
It didn’t. The Tar Heels players couldn’t shoot, either. Arkansas was given every opportunity to make a game of it and the Razorbacks responded.
A wild 20-8 run to end the first half made Arkansas look dangerous and left the Hogs trailing by just 5 points after being down by as many as 17. Macon helped things with 12 points off the bench at the time, and finished with a game-high 19 points.
Anton Beard, who also came off the bench, joined him in double figures with 10. Meeks had 16 points and 11 rebounds for North Carolina.
Arkansas is now 0-9 against 1-seeds in school history, and the Razorbacks have been eliminated by North Carolina in each of their last three NCAA Tournament appearances (2017, 2015, 2008).
The final media timeout.
North Carolina outscored Arkansas, 12-0, after Barford made a layup with three and a half minutes left.
Stat line of the game
Arguing free throw attempt discrepancies is silly. But UNC won in large part because it was able to shoot so many.
North Carolina went 19 of 25 from the line. Arkansas was 5 of 8.
What’s next for Arkansas?
The Razorbacks’ season comes to an end with a 26-10 record.