For the first time since 1999, the University of Arkansas knows what it is like to win an NCAA Tournament game.
The reward: a game with No. 1 in its own backyard.
Sonny Weems had a career-high 31 points and Darian Townes added 17 points and 12 rebounds as the ninth-seeded Razorbacks downed eighth-seeded Indiana 86-72 Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I have tremendous respect for Indiana and this was just a great team win for our basketball team," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "You know it wasn't the perfect win; probably never going to pitch a perfect one. But I can't complain about the results.
"You know 14 assists to 12 turnovers, to outrebound them (34-30), to get more free throws than they did (32 to 12)," Pelphrey said.
Patrick Beverley added 12 points and Gary Ervin 7 assists for Arkansas (23-10), who advances to play top-ranked and top-seeded North Carolina (33-2),who downed Mount St. Mary's 113-74 earlier Friday while scoring 60 points in the first half.
"Any credit goes to the players," Pelphrey said. "They are a resilient bunch. They have been given up for dead two or three times, and they bounced back.
"I really felt like coming into this game they would play well," Pelphrey added. "Now the challenge is for them is to have some repeat success in terms of their effort, their focus, their level of play because this is the NCAA Tournament and our next opponent is unavailable."
The game will be played Sunday at 4 p.m. CST before a partisan North Carolina crowd.
"This is what you sign up for," Beverley said. "You are playing the number one team in the country. We are excited about it and we are going to go out and play as hard as we can."
Indiana head coach Dan Dakich gave Arkansas plenty of credit.
"They were just better physically, athletically and mentally tonight," Dakich said. "That's pretty much it."
Weems was 12-of-14 from the field, 3 of 4 from 3-point range and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
"That's got to be as great a performance by an Arkansas player in the NCAA Tournament in a long, long time," Pelphrey said. "Sonny was just magnificent."
"Sonny Weems played like an All-American," Dakich said. "It was interesting to watch them all week (on film). The more you watched him, the more competitive you saw how he was.
"You know some kids are supposed to be great players," Dakich said. "...And I tell you what he is, he is a hard-working kid who lives up to what he is because of how hard he plays."
D.J. White led Indiana (25-8) with 22 points while Armon Bassett added 21.
Eric Gordon, Indiana's 6-4, 215-pound freshman guard who is expected to be one of the top 10 picks in this year's NBA,struggled with his shot.
He was 3-of-15 from the field (0-of-6 from 3-point range) on the night - one of those a spectacular driving dunk - and had just 8 points, 13 below his 21.3 average.
"It wasn't just one person that shut him down," noted Beverley, who spent a lot of time guarding him. "It was a team thing. We really played him tough as a team."
Dakich gave Arkansas credit for slowing down Gordon.
"I think they were doing a good job in their zone of locating and squaring up on Eric," Dakich said.
He was quick to laud Gordon for getting Indiana to this point.
"Eric struggled down he stretch with his shooting, but he is the kid that put Indiana back relevant, back in the upper Top 25 of basetball by coming to Indiana," Dakich said. "He had a great, great year."
Indiana had cut a 45-36 lead down to 49-47, but Steven Hill's slam started an Arkansas run that was capped by Weems' 3-pointer from the deep corner to put the Razorbacks up 58-49 with 9:09 left.
The Hoosiers got it to within six again, but the UA squad rushed it back out to 70-59 when Charles Thomas converted an old-fashioned 3-point play with 4:02 remaining in he contest.
During that time, Townes controlled the boards and actually went to the Arkansas fans at one point and beat his chest.
"That was just the passion of the ballgame," Townes said. "The tournament is real big to us and to the seniors. It's our last go-around.
"With that momentum and that offensive rebounding," Townes added, " I wanted to beat my chest like Charles Thomas, feel like him for couple of seconds and get the crowd going and the players going and keep the momentum from there."
The Razorbacks then salted the game away from the free throw line, where they hit their first 10 of the night and were 26-of-33 during the game.
Arkansas shot 54.2 percent from the field - led by Weems' 12-of-14 - and hit 8-of-17 from beyond the 3-point arc.
"I have just been really working hard on my shooting," Weems said. "I give God all the credit. He has been with me throughout the whole season and has allowed me to have a great season."
Weems also credited his teammates.
"We had great ball movement and that is what makes a team go further," Weems said. "This was a true team win. We shared the ball, we played great defense."
Beverley said that's just Sonny Weems.
"Sonny played his butt off, just like he has all year," Beverley said. "When he plays like that, we are very hard to beat.
Arkansas point guard Gary Ervin had 7 assists to lead his club and marveled at how Weems played after missing practice with an injury.
"Great performance for somebody who didn't practice the whole week," Ervin said.
As he did during the first two games of the SEC Tournament, Stefan Welsh came off bench firing and buried two 3-pointers early on.
His first one got Arkansas - which had trailed by 5 - the lead as did his second one that pushed the Razorbacks ahead 21-19.
Arkansas would keep the lead the rest of the half, stretching it to 35-25 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Beverley and Weems at the 3:14 mark.
White's free throw with 1:04 cut it to 37-30 and was the last points before intermission.
That set the stage for what turned into a dominating second half performance by the Razorbacks.
"We thought we were the better team, but evidently Arkansas came out and showed that," Indiana's Jamarcus Ellis. "I think we could have come in here and played harder than we did...I think they wanted it more than we did."
Photos by Marc F. Henning
Darian Townes and Steven Hill pressure Indiana's D.J. White.
Sonny Weems slams home a high percentage shot.
Gary Ervin drives to the basket against Lance Stemier.
Patrick Beverley and Vincent Hunter apply defensive pressure to Stemier.
Steven Hill, who had three blocks, goes after a shot from D.J. White.
Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey talks to his team during a timeout.
Darian Townes works inside against Armon Bassett and Kyle Taber.
Townes celebrates after the win.
An elated Vincent Hunter runs off the court after the victory.
Arkansas 86, Indiana 72
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