FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. –- Scotty Thurman has not watched an entire replay of the 1994 men’s basketball national championship game, but he has the chance to see at least part of it on Sunday in Bud Walton Arena.
The last time he saw the entire game, he played in it. It was April 4, 1994, in Charlotte, N.C., and No. 2 Arkansas faced No. 6 Duke, the 1991 and 1992 national champion, for the NCAA championship.
After trailing by 10 early in the second half, Arkansas called timeout with 1:29 left and the score tied 70-70.
With the shot clock winding down and less than a minute to play, Thurman soon found himself with a split second opportunity to launch the most important three-point shot in Razorback history.
He made 102 threes that season and 267 in his career. Earlier in the season, his three with seven seconds left was the game-winner at Tennessee. Another three in the last 30 seconds was the difference in a victory at LSU.
Thurman was a pretty good option, to say the least, but Dwight Stewart, a three-point threat himself, could have taken the shot. He received a pass at the top of the key, but bobbled the ball, which allowed the defense to recover. He fired a pass to Thurman on the right wing as the seconds ticked away on the shot clock.
Thurman quickly gathered the pass and launched a high-arching shot just clearing the outstretched hand of the Blue Devils’ Antonio Lang. When the shot finally made its descent through the net, only 51 seconds remained and Arkansas had a 73-70 lead. As the final minute elapsed, Clint McDaniel added a pair of free throws and Al Dillard one more, and the Razorbacks won the national title with a 76-72 victory.
“I’ve seen it (the shot) more in magazines and on posters than on television,” Thurman says. “Rarely a day goes by when I am not asked about it. Every year around March Madness I’m told it’s on (the shot). Like I tell my wife and kids, there are a lot worse things to be known for.”
Arkansas has earned six trips to the Final Four, which ranks ninth-best in the nation; earned 30 bids to the NCAA Tournament, which ranks ninth-best; and won 40 games in NCAA Tournament play, which ranks 12th-best, but Thurman’s shot and the 1994 title stand alone in Razorback lore.
According to both coaches and players, history could have easily immortalized a different Razorbacks’ jump shot in the national championship game. The team-first attitude was crucial to the success of the program’s most memorable play and its crowning achievement.
“Our team was based on concepts,” Nolan Richardson says. “That pass was a good pass to Dwight, but he bobbled the ball. He was a good three-point shooter, but he passed to Scotty and he was spotted up. That was one of the biggest shots in the 40 years I coached.”
“I get credit for hitting the biggest shot in Arkansas history, but a lot of people forget Dwight fumbled the pass or he would have taken the shot,” Thurman says. “I believe he would have made it.”
According to Corliss Williamson, that attitude was a key ingredient to the Hogs going 31-3, winning the title and earning a No. 1 ranking.
“Sacrifice is something Coach Richardson preached from day one,” the Final Four MVP says. “He did a great job of motivating everyone and getting everyone on the same page. We all understood the game, being unselfish and being able to pass the ball. No one was selfish or wanted to take all the shots.”
What if Thurman had missed the shot? No problem, according to Richardson; the Hogs would play defense and get another chance to score.
“(Al) Dillard could stretch a defense to Springdale from the arena, and Stewart could shoot,” Richardson says. “(Clint) McDaniel could shoot and Davor Rimac could shoot. We had people who could stick it in the hole, but more than that, we could play defense. I mentioned to Scotty, what if we missed that shot. He said it’s a tie game. We go down on defense, take the ball and go score.”
Of course, he didn’t miss, and is still credited with hitting the biggest shot in school history. Should he ever forget that fact, he would be reminded.
“I never knew it would have this kind of impact,” Thurman says. “When you are in the moment, you feel like it’s what you are supposed to do. People come up and tell me exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened.”
What they will be doing this weekend is getting recognized and reminiscing about that moment and many others 15 years ago.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve all been together,” Williamson, who averaged 26.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in the Final Four, says. “It’s great that we’re going to have our ‘family reunion’ in Fayetteville. I’m looking forward to it.”
“This is more about the team and what we did as a group,” Thurman says.
Thurman, Stewart and other members of the national championship team, along with Richardson and the rest of the staff, are going to be in Fayetteville this weekend for the “Celebration of a Championship,” which honors that team for the first time since the Razorbacks won the title.
Arkansas plays host to Georgia at 3:05 p.m. on Sunday. Bud Walton Arena doors open at noon, and players and coaches from the NCAA title team are going to sign autographs around the concourse from noon- 2 p.m. From 12:30-2 p.m., the championship game will be played in its entirety on the video board in the arena and on monitors around the concourse.