Notae NCAAT first round

Senior guard JD Notae attempts a layup Thursday night against Vermont. Notae and the Razorbacks staved off an upset, defeating the Catamounts 75-71 to advance to the second round.

In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the fourth-seeded Arkansas men’s basketball team denied a win for trendy upset pick Vermont, downing the Catamounts 75-71 Thursday in Buffalo, New York.

“Credit to Vermont,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said in the postgame press conference. “They’re a well-coached team. They understand their roles. I thought our guys, to a man, stepped up big time.”

When the first half began, it looked like a glorified shootaround. Both teams were letting it fly from 3-point range and had open lanes to the rim.

The Catamounts jumped out to an 8-3 lead. The Razorbacks stormed back to tie the game at 13 with a pair of 3-pointers from sophomore guard Davonte Davis and sophomore forward Jaylin Williams.

Vermont’s ball movement tested the Arkansas defensive rotations and gave the Catamounts some easy looks at the rim, and they took a 17-13 lead over the Hogs.

Arkansas fought back once again to take a 20-17 lead with 11:28 left in the first, the comeback punctuated by a ferocious block from the help side by senior guard Stanley Umude.

Team-leading scorer JD Notae picked up his second foul of the game with 6:20 left and sat the rest of the first half.

Vermont took advantage of a bad Razorback rotation to tie the game at 27, followed immediately by a layup from Williams and a 3-pointer from Umude that allowed the Hogs to retake the lead with 29 seconds on the clock and force a Catamount timeout. The Hogs took a 34-27 lead into halftime.

The Catamounts came out firing and took a 39-36 lead with a 12-0 run to open the half. Notae hit a pair of free throws to put the Hogs up 40-39 with 14:43 in the game.

Vermont came back to take a 46-45 lead that got immediately erased by a deep Notae 3-pointer that put the Hogs ahead 48-46. The Catamounts broke through the Arkansas defense to get an easy look at the rim and tie the game at 48 with 10:52 left.

Arkansas pulled ahead 61-55 with an Umude 3-pointer and held the lead for the rest of the game. The Catamounts came within two points with just 12 seconds left in the game, but the Razorbacks hit their free throws and iced it.

Umude was the star of the show and led the team with 21 points on 6-11 shooting, including 3-4 from deep. He made his 3-pointers when the Hogs drastically needed a run, and they closed many of the Catamounts' runs.

“Stan was phenomenal,” Musselman said. “We probably could have ran some more plays for him, but Stan came up huge tonight. It was his first time on this stage. Really proud of Stan and what he did.”

Davis came off the bench to add 14 points on 6-10 shooting. His defense was much needed, but his scoring also came through at the perfect time. Davis’ athleticism was a boon against an athletically inferior Vermont team.

“I’m just playing basketball,” Davis said. “When the bright lights are on, we all need to step up. I was telling the guys in the locker room, you win, you advance. So we just wanted to find a way to win.”

Notae was just 1-7 from 3-point range and shot 5-16 from the field, but his ability to get to the rim was key for the Hogs. Notae’s play will almost certainly decide how far the Razorbacks go in the NCAA Tournament.

Williams tore apart the small lineup of the Vermont squad. He put up 13 points and 10 rebounds on the Catamounts, but will need to do even better for Arkansas to make it deep into the tournament.

The Hogs will take on the 12th-seeded New Mexico State Aggies at 7:40 p.m. Saturday in Buffalo, after the Aggies’ upset over the fifth-seeded UConn Huskies in the opening round. The game will be broadcast on TNT.

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