Jacksonville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - A couple of teams coming off close calls on Thursday prepare to do battle, as the Arkansas Razorbacks clash with the North Carolina Tar Heels in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Saturday night.
The Razorbacks, who are enjoying their most successful campaign in more than two decades, went from losing to top-ranked and undefeated Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game to taking on Wofford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, and nearly made an early exit. The fifth seed in the West Region was taken down to the wire by the 12th-seeded Terriers before securing the narrow 56-53 victory.
Arkansas, which is now 41-29 all-time in the tourney, is aiming to advance to the round of 16 for the 11th time in program history.
As for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels, they too were taken to task in their first game of the tourney by an upstart Harvard squad. Luckily, UNC was able to get it together and hold on for the 67-65 triumph, giving head coach Roy Williams a shot at his 750th career victory this weekend against the Hogs.
North Carolina now has a mark of 111-43 in the tournament all-time, with Williams showing a 30-8 record during his tenure with the Heels.
UNC owns a 4-3 advantage in the all-time series between the squads, although when it comes to matchups during the NCAA Tournament, the teams have split four meetings. The most recent of those clashes came in 2008 in the second round of the event in Raleigh, resulting a 108-77 blowout victory for the Tar Heels.
The winner of this meeting will head to the Sweet 16 and challenge the survivor of the Oregon/Wisconsin matchup.
In a game that featured 10 ties and 18 lead changes, the Razorbacks played just well enough to slip by Wofford two days ago, surviving 3-of-8 shooting behind the 3-point line and 9-of-16 at the charity stripe. Michael Qualls was a big reason for the win as he tallied a game-high 20 points on a near-perfect 8-of-9 effort from the floor, followed by Bobby Portis with yet another double-double, this one consisting of 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Portis, the SEC Player of the Year, is averaging 17.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg, both of which pace the program, while accounting for a team-best 50 blocked shots as well. Qualls produces another 15.6 ppg and 5.2 rpg of his own, which means the duo accounts for a sizeable chunk of the unit's 77.4 ppg. Rashad Madden (9.5 ppg) lends a hand in the scoring department, but it is his 159 assists that figure to be the most important of his contributions.
Down by two with just over a minute remaining in regulation, Justin Jackson tied the game with a short floater to take the lead back from Harvard and then hit what proved to be the game-winner with 24 seconds left on the clock to send the Tar Heels into the third round of the tourney. Jackson finished with a team-best 15 points, hitting both of his 3-point tries, while Marcus Paige and Kennedy Meeks pitched in with 12 and 10 points, respectively, the former accounting for six assists and the latter eight rebounds for a squad that survived an unsightly 17 turnovers.
Paige, the only player to start every game this season for the Tar Heels, leads the program with 13.9 ppg, but is just one of four who is scoring in double figures on the campaign. Brice Johnson, a 56.7 percent shooter from the floor, is good for another 13.1 ppg, Meeks checks in with 11.6 ppg and Jackson 10.5 ppg. Keeping all four of those scorers happy is not an easy job, but one that J.P. Tokoto (8.3 ppg) has taken on by handing out 152 assists.