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NCAA rules gave Oral Roberts the chance for a miracle – and Arkansas the right to a fair result

Think about exactly what had to happen to make Oral Roberts’ breathtaking NCAA tournament final blow to go a little wrong. Consider how their coach, Paul Mills, had to design a game for his star, Max Abmas, to stand a chance of winning the most important game in school history with just 3.1 seconds to carry the basketball 94 feet between the opposing end line and the Golden Eagles goal.

There was the traffic created in the center of the backcourt by Mills’ decision to have forward Francis Lacis and guard Carlos Jurgens cross next to each other, dragging their Arkansas defenders into a mess. and creating a screen that freed Abmas, the leader of the country. goalscorer, accept an incoming pass by moving sideways and immediately turn to advance the ball towards the basket. “A cut banana,” they call it in the game day shoot.

Abmas began his sprint upstream, main defenseman Jalen Tate followed because of the pick and first-year Razorbacks goaltender Davonte Davis keeping pace but never gaining the defensive balance needed to challenge the lead.

Then there was Abmas, a 44% 3-point shooter, grabbing the opening Davis had allowed, stopping his lead a few yards behind the arc on the right wing and throwing a jumper that beat the buzzer.

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Yes, he grabbed the front of the rim and rebounded for a long time, where Razorbacks forward Justin Smith grabbed the rebound and let out a sigh that could have been felt all the way back to Fayetteville. Arkansas prevailed, 72-70, to advance to the NCAA Southern Region Finals against Baylor. This is the Razorbacks’ first trip to the Elite Eight since 1995.

Mills said the plan “puts the ball in Max’s hands and allows him to make a decision. We gave him a pass option and we gave him a dribble option. To his credit, he’s super bright. He is so young, picks things up very quickly and understood, had a great knowledge of the field, had a great selection on the shot. Unfortunately, he did not enter. “

When asked if he thought Abmas’ ball would fall off when released, Mills simply replied, “Yes.”

No, that hasn’t turned out to be one of the spectacular moments that will be revisited every March from here on out forever. Abmas will not remember in the pantheon the magical moments of the NCAA tournament with Christian Laettner, Tyus Edney, Bryce Drew and Kris Jenkins.

He will not be forgotten either.

His NCAA tournament legacy will be more like that of product Butler Gordon Hayward, whose halffielder against Duke in the 2010 Championship game followed the same path down the right side, had to be thrown from further away, but grabbed almost the exact same spot on the rim.

“I got a good look,” Abmas told reporters. “I just didn’t hit him.

“There is nothing I would have done that was different. I guess I get a little more out of it. When he left my hands, I felt good. It ended up missing. We didn’t do the job.

Abmas was the driving force behind Oral Roberts’ rise from 15th place in the NCAA Tournament to Sweet 16 and a 3-seeded Arkansas game, which the Golden Eagles controlled for much of the season. evening and almost won. He scored 25 points as they built a 35-28 halftime lead that was extended to 46-38 at the start of the second half.

“I think what you’re proud of are your players,” said Mills. “You are obviously disappointed in a game, but you are proud of your players, how they come together and how they fight.

“I think every time you’re with a bunch of young men like that, you’re just sad when it ends.

“You always think that you are capable of a lot more.”

MORE: Who is Max Abmas? What you need to know about Oral Roberts’ key Sweet 16 player

All of those heroic games mentioned, and even the one that almost developed, developed the way they did because the NCAA wisely resisted the stupid rule that allows NBA teams and women’s basketball teams. college ball to advance the ball 50 feet simply by calling the time out in the final. seconds. Oral Roberts was forced to win that final basket, and he almost did.

There would have been no justice if Arkansas had established their lead with 3.1 seconds left on a spectacular shot in Davis’ lane only to see Oral Roberts given the opportunity to equalize or win. while doing half the work that had been demanded of the Razorbacks.

Playmaker Jalen Tate, who led Arkansas with 22 points and six assists, created the winning opportunity by draining every second of the game except the final seconds, starting his lane attack with 8.1 in counter, then distributing the ball to Davis. as the defense blocked the middle. Davis was alone when he received the pass but wanted to get closer to the basket, and his dribbling movement allowed two defenders to tighten up. This forced “Devo” to fade as he fired.

“The last play we got, he drove and they came in, and he kicked him out to me. I stayed calm and spilled the ball, ”said Davis. “I think I got the job done. I know the job is going to come, and this is what it is coming back to. And as you saw, I spilled the ball. … I think I was made for this type of game.

The drama of Abmas ‘attempted shot was so consuming that Davis answered several questions about Arkansas’ defensive side in this situation and his own role. That’s what comes from keeping the competitive logic in order, not giving the monitoring team a huge advantage just for the sake of making drama.

Former NCAA refereeing director John Adams called the timeout rule a “bogus excitement addendum” on Twitter. He’s right, of course. Arkansas-Oral Roberts didn’t need it. The game only needed real tension, creative basketball and a fair result, and he got it all.

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