Colgate made brackets cower, mid-majors smile and computers turn smug.
The No. 14 seed held a 14-point lead over third-seeded Arkansas, and the NET’s ninth-ranked team in the nation had yet to get a point from Patriot League Player of the Year Jordan Burns. The Raiders could still play so much better — but would never be able to beat the Razorbacks at their best.
Arkansas, reaching back to 1994 and borrowing a few of Nolan Richardson’s minutes from hell, ratcheted up the defensive intensity. The Razorbacks forced several turnovers with full-court pressure to end the first half of their first round NCAA Tournament game on a 17-0 run, sparking an 85-68 win over Colgate on Friday in Indianapolis.
Arkansas (23-6) will face No. 6 Texas Tech (18-10) — which beat No. 11 Utah State, 65-53 — in the second round of the South Region after scoring 34 points on 22 turnovers.
Colgate coach Matt Langel will wonder what could have been after his Raiders (14-2) led for more than 21 minutes and were still up with less than 11 minutes left.
“Coach [Eric Musselman] put his toughest guys in the game and we weren’t ready,” Langel said. “I take ownership in that. I feel bad that I didn’t have our guys prepared for that part of what Arkansas did. They hadn’t done that very often … and it ended up being the difference in the game … It just created a tide that we couldn’t overcome.
“The intensity of their on-ball defense is really something that we’re really not used to … We haven’t faced that all year. It’s not something you can simulate.”
Arkansas’s season-saving, small-ball lineup moved 6-foot-7 Justin Smith to center. There, the Indiana transfer put up 29 points and 13 rebounds.
“I just thought the combination of strength, speed, athleticism would be a lot for their front line to handle,” Musselman said of Smith. “With four guards and Justin Smith out there, I think that changed the complexion.”
Though Colgate’s second-ranked offense was held under 40 percent shooting from the field and more than 18 points below its scoring average, it went 12-for-27 from 3-point range and was tied at 58 with less than nine minutes to play.
Then, Arkansas turned on its turbo boosters and turned the Raiders over again and again, securing the win with a 15-2 run.
“We heard everybody talking about how this was — circle this game. We were going to get upset,” Musselman said. “I’m just happy we’re advancing and moving on to the next game. You know what? There was no celebrating in the locker room tonight. The other tournaments that we’ve been able to advance in, there’s a lot of celebration even after Game 1. There was none. When I walked in and asked if they were happy and all right, they said, ‘Coach, we were supposed to win, which is the mindset that you want your basketball team to have.’ ”
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