North Carolina 87, Arkansas 78

Marcus Paige scores 20 of his 22 points in the second half and Justin Jackson 16 as North Carolina downs Arkansas 87-78 Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament despite Michael Qualls' 27 points and 10 rebounds and Bobby Portis' 18 points and 14 boards.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The end of the best run in almost 20 years for the Arkansas basketball program came on the First Coast in the second game and a step away from Sweet 16.

Marcus Paige scored 22 points, including 20 in the second half, and North Carolina beat Arkansas 87-78 in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in three years.

Thus Arkansas (27-9) ended its season with the sixth most wins in school history and it's best record since 1995.

"I was really proud of our effort," Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said. "A lot of people didn't think we'd get here, but we got here. The one thing I said was that I didn't want to just get to the (Big) Dance, I wanted to dance a little bit. And we danced a little bit, but I guess we did the one step.

"But I promise you in the future that we are going to do a lot more dancing because the foundation has been laid and basketball is big-time reviving at the University of Arkansas," Anderson added.

Michael Qualls led Arkansas with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Bobby Portis finished with 18 points, 14 boards, 5 steals and 3 assists for the Razorbacks.

"We just came and fell short," Qualls said. "That's life. You get knocked down, you're going to just get up again. It hurts now, it's going to hurt for awhile, maybe hurt until the first game next year."

Portis was not happy with the way the season ended.

"It's a bad feeling because just to run every morning at 5 a.m., run in the morning and practice in the morning and go as hard as we did, and for this to be our last game, I feel like it hurts me a lot just because now we have to wait a whole 'nother season to play a game. It hurts a lot."

Portis, the SEC Player of the Year and someone who has been projected as a Top 20 NBA draft pick, continued to indicate he planned to be back at Arkansas.

He struggled to a 5-of-15 shooting night from the field and was just 10-of-27 in the NCAA tournament after leading the SEC in field goal shooting at 56 percent during the regular season.

"Last year our team went to the NIT and then we came this year and made it to the 32 so hopefully next year our team can hit their stride and try to win that national championship," Portis said during the post-game press conference.

"I just want to get better, come back and lead our team deep into the tournament," Portis added later in the locker room.

Senior Rashad Madden had 11 points and 5 assists and Anthlon Bell 11 in a game where Arkansas had a season-high 21 turnovers while forcing North Carolina into 16.

The Razorbacks battled hard on the boards - losing just 42-39 to the nation's second best rebounding squad - and had 20 offensive rebounds to the Tar Heels' 17, but were outscored 40-24 in points in the paint.

Arkansas senior Rashad Madden guards North Carolina's J.P. Tokoto

Madden and fellow senior Alandise Harris - who had the game-winning 3-point play in Thursday's 56-53 win over Wofford - played in their last games as Razorbacks.

"Where I came from (as a freshman), we really didn't win too many games (18) my freshman year," Madden said, "and to be here (the NCAA Tournament) now means a lot and I hope these guys (Portis and Qualls) continue to take it up.

North Carolina advances to play either No. 1 seed Wisconsin or eighth-seeded Oregon in the West Regional next week in Los Angeles. It will be Carolina's 26th appearance in the Sweet 16.

Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams was pleased with the win as expected.

"Well, we're excited," Williams said. "I feel very fortunate. We beat a really good Arkansas team that's had a great, great year. Mike Anderson has done a great job with that team. I think it's been three years back there and what he's done with that club has been impressive.

"...But I hate this time of the year because the kids just think about the outcome of today's games and don't feel as good about what they should feel good about and that is what Arkansas has done all year."

Harris played two years at Arkansas after playing two years at Houston.

"This is the best season that I have ever had as a basketball player," Harris said. "The most games and the farthest I've ever been."

Qualls had 12 of his points and Madden 10 of his in the first half of a game that featured highlight plays from both teams, Arkansas jumping out to a 10-4 lead and North Carolina leading 39-36 at intermission.

"The first of the game they (the Razorbacks) just came out and hit us in the mouth and we stumbled a bit," Williams said, "but we got righted and we attacked the press and got some lay ups and that got us back into the game."

Jabril Durham's 3-pointer gave Arkansas a 59-58 lead with 10:56 left, but Paige took over from that point.

Paige missed seven of eight shots in the first half and had just two points. He missed all three from 3-point range, and was pretty much a non-factor as the Tar Heels let the Razorbacks keep things close.

But the junior guard took over in the second half, scoring 13 of his team's 17 points during a 5-minute stretch that helped North Carolina build a double-digit lead.

That included back-to-back 3-pointers that pushed North Carolina up 71-61 with 7:21 left.

"I thought Marcus was sensational in the second half," Williams said.

Paige said he just let the game come to him instead of forcing things in the second half.

"I was able to get a couple of good looks and after that I got into a rhythm," Paige said. "I didn't lose confidence. My teammates have a great deal of confidence in me and they put me in a position to succeed a lot so that helps."

It also helped him that he did not have Arkansas point guard Anton Beard guarding him. Beard was able to play only 13 minutes in large part because he took a charge from 285-pound North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks, who crumpled him.

"I have been OK since the Tennessee game in the SEC Tournament, but he fell on my other ankle," Beard said.

J.P. Tokoto added 13 points, Nate Britt 10 first-half points, Meeks 9 and Brice Johnson 7 points and 13 rebounds for North Carolina, who shot 45 percent from the field overall and 55 percent in the second half.

Durham had 5 points and 3 assists and Moses Kingsley 4 points and 5 rebounds - all in the first half - for Arkansas, who shot 46 percent from the field and made 22-of-27 free throws while North Carolina was making 29-of-37

The Razorbacks were 8-of-25 from 3-point range while the Tar Heels were 4-of-10.

"My mindset with these guys is that they went out fighting and lost to a very good North Carolina team," Anderson added.

Michael Qualls had 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Anton Beard screams in agony after taking a charge from 270-pound Kennedy Meeks, who fell on his ankle.

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