DES MOINES, Iowa — Kansas’ national title defense ended Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when Arkansas’ Ricky Council IV made five free throws in the final seconds and the eighth-seeded Razorbacks , defeated the No. 1 seed Jayhawks 72-71 .
Davonte Davis scored 25 points and the Board added 21 as Arkansas recovered from a 12-point second-half deficit. Kansas, playing without ailing coach Bill Self, became the second seed not to escape the tournament’s first weekend after Purdue lost Friday night to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson.
Arkansas (22-13) and coach Eric Musselman return to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. The Razorbacks will face Saint Mary’s or UConn in the West Region semifinals in Las Vegas on Thursday.
Musselman and his players rushed to a group of fans seated pitchside after the final buzzer. The 58-year-old coach ripped off his polo shirt, waved it above his head and shouted in delight.
Self has been with the Jayhawks (28-8) since arriving in Des Moines and has attended practices and meetings, but he still doesn’t feel well enough to coach a game after undergoing heart surgery on March 8 for clear clogged arteries.
Longtime assistant Norm Roberts served as interim coach for a fifth straight game in Self’s absence.
Kansas, a candidate to become the first repeat national champion since Florida in 2006-07, led 35-27 at halftime and lost for the first time in 27 games entering the second half with a lead. Kansas was 47-0 in the NCAA Tournament as it led by eight or more points at halftime.
Davis scored 21 of his points in the second half. He fouled with 1:56 remaining, giving way to veteran Council, a transfer from Wichita State that has scored nine of the Razorbacks’ last 11 points.
The Council’s free throw gave Arkansas the lead to stay, 68-67, with 24 seconds left. He then rebounded his own miss from the second free throw and made two more to give the Razorbacks a three-point lead.
The teams traded free throws and Arkansas sent Kansas’ Jalen Wilson to the line with 3 seconds left to prevent a potential 3-point tie. Wilson made the first free throw and appeared to be trying to miss the second intentionally, but he veered hard off the glass and inside, and Kansas never regained possession.
Wilson led the Jayhawks with 20 points.
Arkansas was playing a No. 1 seed for the third straight year. Last year, the Razorbacks knocked out Gonzaga on the way to their second consecutive Elite Eight.
Arkansas, which beat Illinois in the first round, was considered a scary game for the Jayhawks with their explosive transition play and ability to play lockout defense.
But the circumstances weren’t ideal for the Razorbacks. Guard Anthony Black honed a nagging ankle injury early and went to the bench to get patched up and change shoes, and fellow guard and projected NBA first-round pick Nick Smith Jr. committed two quick fouls and was limited to 10 minutes. and no points in the first half. Also, big man Kamani Johnson was sick and playing with a sore toe.
The Razorbacks were too eager to shoot 3-pointers early. They missed 8 of 9 in the first half and couldn’t start their running game.
Kansas seemed in full control early on. The Jayhawks knocked their fans out of their seats with a series of electric plays that included Gradey Dick’s quick dunk on Dajuan Harris’ steal, Wilson’s contested infielder on one and one and his primal scream aimed at fans from Arkansas and Joseph Yesufu. high arc 3 of the logo to beat the shot clock.