‘Perfect' Tar Heels End Arkansas' Season

Sonny Weems, Gary Ervin

RALEIGH, N.C. — Vincent Hunter in tears to his left, Charles Thomas in tears to his right, Steven Hill slowly dressed Sunday in Arkansas' RBC Center locker room. Their Razorback careers, and those of Arkansas' other three seniors, were officially over.

They might as well have been finished two hours earlier, though, long before No. 1 North Carolina concluded its 108-77 victory over the ninth-seeded Hogs. Just 2 minutes, 39 seconds into this NCAA Tournament East Regional contest, Arkansas trailed 9-0 in front of a heavily pro-Tar Heels crowd of 19,447.

North Carolina (34-2) had converted four of its first five shots. And the Tar Heels nearly kept up that pace in piling up the most points Arkansas (23-12) has ever allowed in a postseason game.

"They were relentless," Hill said. "They didn't give us a chance to get back in the game. It's so hard to play from behind against the No. 1 team in the country.

"They were perfect."

North Carolina looked every bit the tournament's No. 1 overall seed Sunday in ending Arkansas' season. The Tar Heels shot 61.3 percent as they built a 51-26 halftime lead, and then somehow one-upped themselves by shooting 73.5 percent in the second half.

Five Tar Heels scored in double figures, and North Carolina dished out a season-best 28 assists. Toss in the fact Arkansas missed 18 of its 28 first-half shots, and a disastrous conclusion to a half-dozen players' days as Hogs was unavoidable.

"It was close to our best basketball," North Carolina guard Danny Green said. "I wouldn't say it's the best basketball we can play, but it's very close."

Might have a hard time convincing Arkansas' players of that. The Razorbacks never led two days after beating Indiana for the their program's first NCAA Tournament win in nine years.

There was hope, actually, for about one minute, as Hunter blocked a Tyler Hansbrough shot to open the game. But North Carolina scored on 15 of its next 16 possessions. In the midst of that stretch, Thomas scored Arkansas' first points on a 12-foot baseline jumper that closed the Tar Heels lead to 9-2.

Arkansas couldn't get any closer.

"We didn't play a lick of defense," Thomas said.

That was overwhelmingly evident in the second half when Arkansas chipped into North Carolina's advantage. The Razorbacks nailed eight of their first 10 second-half shots, but only managed to trim their deficit to 21 points.

Soon after, Alex Stepheson scored off two offensive rebounds. Ty Lawson darted into the lane for a 3-point play. Wayne Ellington turned a steal into an open-court layup, and Deon Thompson banked in a shot en route to his 8-for-8 performance.

In a six-minute span, North Carolina's lead had expanded to 33 points, and the Tar Heels eventually broke the 100-point mark with 4:04 still left to play.

"We lost this game everywhere you want to look at it," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "They were just better than us."

Pelphrey wouldn't let that reality ruin the way his players look back on his first team as Arkansas' coach, however. Sure, the Razorbacks were never competitive Sunday. And yes, they left Raleigh bruised from the school's worst defeat since a 35-point loss at Cincinnati in 1997.

But he looked at his teary-eyed Hogs and requested they remember 2007-08 for the highs — not for Sunday's demoralizing low.

"We lost a game today, but we did not lose our season," Pelphrey said. "I'm proud of what those guys have accomplished."





Sonny Weems and Gary Ervin console each other after the loss.





Charles Thomas sits dejectedly on the bench.





Thomas and Vincent Hunter are two of the six Razorbacks seniors who played their last college game on Sunday.

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