Seniors Spur First NCAA Win Since 1999

RALEIGH, N.C. — Gary Ervin, Charles Thomas, Darian Townes and Sonny Weems sat leisurely on the bench during the waning moments of Arkansas' 86-72 victory over Indiana on Friday night.

The four seniors smiled wide, joking with one another, as the last seconds of Arkansas' first NCAA Tournament win since 1999 ticked off the RBC Center clock. Once the final buzzer sounded, Townes and Weems embraced, ecstatic about extending their Arkansas careers for at least one more game.

"This game was real special," Townes said. "This is a different ballclub. We kept our focus and just got it done. This was a special game."

Arkansas (23-11) snapped its five-game NCAA Tournament losing streak because of the players who could've ended their days as Razorbacks on Friday night.

Weems scored a career-high 31 points on 12-of-14 shooting before a neutral East Regional crowd of 19,477. Townes added 17 points and 12 rebounds. Ervin drained 7 of 8 free throws. Vincent Hunter made an early 3-pointer. Thomas and Steven Hill provided Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, who won his first NCAA Tournament game as a head coach, with valuable minutes.

And every Razorback played a part in holding Indiana (25-8) to 43.8 percent shooting and limiting star freshman guard Eric Gordon to just eight points, tying a season low. For Pelphrey, the evening was so rewarding because of the criticisms his players have endured, the hard times and devastating losses they have fought through.

"They have been given up for dead two or three times, and they've bounced back," Pelphrey said.

The seniors' first contribution Friday night was keeping the Hogs close while they started 5-of-19 from the floor. Townes, Weems and Ervin combined to make all 10 of Arkansas' free-throw attempts in the first half. The Razorbacks eventually ripped off a 24-9 run that helped them build a 37-30 lead.

Arkansas led just 45-42 with 14:54 left after Indiana's Armon Bassett drilled consecutive 3-pointers. But the seniors then seemingly decided they wouldn't be denied a Sunday afternoon matchup with No. 1 overall seed North Carolina beginning at 4:15.

Five of them combined for 25 straight points over the next 11:02, turning their slim lead into a 70-59 advantage with 4:02 to play. Townes sparked the stretch with a nifty spin and 3-foot bank shot. After Weems drove in for a layup and fed Steven Hill for a lob dunk, Townes scored on two straight offensive rebounds.

The last one forced Indiana interim coach Dan Dakich to call timeout. Townes looked over at the Arkansas cheering section, screamed loudly and pounded his chest firmly with his right hand.

"That was just the passion of the ballgame," Townes said. "This tournament is so big to us. For the seniors, this is our last go-around. It just gave me the fire to beat my chest like Charles Thomas, and we kept the momentum from there."

Weems had 14 of his points during that spell, showing no ill effects from his injured right knee. The Hoosiers only got to within seven points the rest of the game, allowing Arkansas to fully enjoy the final few minutes of its first postseason win this century.

Afterward, though, no Razorback seemed interested in talking about previous failures. It's on to North Carolina, and trying to prolong their careers past this weekend.

"We're not worried about the past," Weems said. "This is the present. This is the now. And we're just trying to go further in the tournament."

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