Dusty Hannahs pumped his fist, Manuale Watkins raised his arms and Moses Kingsley hugged Arkansas coach Mike Anderson on his way off the court.
In their final game in Bud Walton Arena, the Razorbacks trio of seniors accomplished what they had hoped for all along — all but securing Arkansas’ return to the NCAA Tournament with an 85-67 win over Georgia to close out the regular season on Saturday.
“We just want to let you all know, we’re going dancing,” Hannahs excitedly told the fans at midcourt afterward.
The Razorbacks (23-8, 12-6 SEC) appeared on their way to missing the NCAAs for a fifth time in six years after back-to-back losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt early last month.
However, Saturday’s win was their sixth in the last seven games since those defeats — likely giving Arkansas its second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last three seasons thanks to its late-season surge.
Hannahs, Kingsley and Watkins combined for 42 points in their final home game for the Razorbacks, with Hannahs and Kingsley finishing with 15 each and Watkins 12. Junior Jaylen Barford added 15 points for Arkansas, which has now won 12 conference games for only the second time in 22 seasons and rebounded from a disappointing 16-16 record a season ago.
“We’ve done what we’re supposed to do,” Anderson said when asked if he felt Arkansas had earned an NCAA berth. “We’ve done what we’re supposed to do.”
Both teams entered Saturday looking to close out the regular season with a much-needed boost to their NCAA Tournament chances, with Arkansas 28th in the NCAA’s RPI ratings and Georgia 52nd.
The Razorbacks hit just five of their first 15 shots to open the game, falling behind 21-14, but they closed the first half by hitting nine of their last 13 shots to take a 38-37 halftime edge. Their hot shooting continued in the second half, with Arkansas hitting 55.7 percent (34 of 61) of its shots for the game.
The Bulldogs (18-13, 9-9) led by as many as seven points in the first half, but they were outscored 47-30 in the second. J.J. Frazier led the way with 24 points, hitting all 13 of his free throws, while Derek Ogbeide added 12 in the loss.
Georgia shot just 31.1 percent (19 of 61) in the game, 8 of 32 (25 percent) in the second half against an Arkansas team Bulldogs coach Mark Fox said “no doubt” had earned its NCAA Tournament spot — even before Saturday’s win.
“Arkansas is a very good club, and we could not find a lineup that could both score and get stops,” Fox said. “They’ve got a very good team, and we certainly couldn’t slow them down.”
Georgia: The Bulldogs entered the game having won five of their last six games to help their postseason chances, but they now likely have to win the SEC Tournament next week to secure an NCAA berth. Under Fox, Georgia has won at least 20 games in each of the last three seasons — the first time the school has done that in its history.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks missed the NCAA Tournament in Anderson’s first three seasons, but they appear now to have all but secured the school’s second appearance in the last three seasons. Arkansas’ win followed a familiar trend on Saturday, with the Razorbacks outscoring Georgia by one point in the first half and 17 in the second. They entered game having outscored their opponents by one point in the first half for the season and 180 points in the second.
Hannahs, Kingsley and Watkins were each honored during a Senior Day ceremony before the game. The three then did everything they could to ensure they ended their Bud Walton Arena careers with a win, combining to hit 16 of 28 shots (57.1 percent).
Both teams next play at the SEC Tournament, which begins on Wednesday.