By: Malcolm Moran (@Malcolm_Moran), NY Times
CHARLOTTE, N.C., – At long, long last, Nolan Richardson and his Arkansas Razorbacks earned their 40 minutes of heaven.
It may not have felt that way as the Duke Blue Devils took the Razorbacks into the final, taut minutes of the national collegiate championship game. But the hard-earned signature ability of the Razorbacks to operate in the most stressful moments — a quality forged by the intense effort Richardson once named 40 minutes of something else — helped Arkansas win its first national championship, 76-72, over Duke tonight at Charlotte Coliseum.
After overcoming a 10-point second-half deficit, the Razorbacks began to feel a title in their grasp when sophomore Scotty Thurman broke a 70-all tie with a 3-point shot with 50.7 seconds to play. Thurman’s shot — with Duke forward Antonio Lang lunging toward him with arms outstretched and the 35-second clock down to a single second — created a deficit the Blue Devils could not overcome.
Arkansas, 31-3, prevented Duke from winning a third championship in four years and joining U.C.L.A. and Kentucky as the only schools to accomplish that feat. The Blue Devils, 28-6, lost a championship game for the fifth time, the most in the history of the tournament.
The Razorbacks won with a relentless resourcefulness that allowed them to overcome their imperfections at the most important times. It was not so much the creation of cowardice, as Richardson has suggested, that made a difference.
Arkansas succeeded with an effort that adds weight to the arms and legs of opponents, and clouds the mind at instants such as the ones tonight that took their place in the history of the game. Grant Hill, Duke’s first-team all-America, was held to 12 points, more than 5 beneath his average. A Hard Fall for Hill
A night that began for Hill with a painful tumble and crash landing on his lower back ended with Hill leading the Blue Devils with 14 rebounds. But a variety of defensive approaches employed by the Razorbacks, including zones, man-to-man and double-teaming, restricted Hill to 4 of 11 shots and helped induce 9 of Duke’s 23 turnovers. "They did a good job of getting the ball out of Grant’s hands," Lang said.
"This game was not won or lost on one play or one missed shot," said Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke coach, who acknowledged the fatigue his players displayed as soon as early as the end of the first half. "They just had a little more firepower."
The difference, however, was small enough that President Clinton, when asked by a pool reporter if he had been worried, said, "I was worried the whole week. I was worried to the very end."
And when asked if his heart was jumping, Clinton said, "The whole time."
The President, who sat in a private box at the rear of the lower level, his presence captured sparingly by the television cameras during the game, visited both dressing rooms afterward, and while consoling the Blue Devils, he responded to a request by Krzyzewski to shake the hands of his players. Deliverance for Richardson
Richardson, who had maintained throughout the weekend that the work of he and other African-American coaches had been underappreciated and his team’s intelligence had not been recognized, was suddenly at the top of his profession.
Duke had won 18 of its previous 19 tournament games, and the senior class of Hill, Lang and guard Marty Clark was painfully close to completing a third championship season in the rarest of college careers.
The Razorbacks made just 39 percent of their shots, the lowest total in their six tournament games. But with Corliss Williamson, the outstanding player of the tournament, scoring a game-high 23 points, the Razorbacks held Duke to two field goals in the final 4:32 to create a championship possibility.
Hill scored just one basket — a 22-foot, 3-point shot that tied the score at 70-all with 1:30 to play — in the final 14:48. Richardson called time out with 1:15 to play. As the shot clock ticked toward a violation, Thurman took a pass from junior center Dwight Stewart and squared himself for the shot that put Arkansas ahead for good.
Thurman remembered seeing the shot clock reach 3 seconds before the ball arrived in Stewart’s hands. Thurman said that at first, as he left his feet to avoid Lang’s reach and release the shot, he thought the shot clock would run out. "I had to get it over his arm," Thurman said. "He did get there. I just got it of quickly."
Williamson, seeing the shot clock and Lang’s reach, began to pray. "I said, ‘Please, please, Lord, let it go in.’ "
But once the ball was beyond Lang’s reach and away before the buzzer, Thurman knew the worst was over. "I just felt it was going to go in," he said, and smiled. "I don’t know why he was praying." Duke Misfires in Desperation
Duke sophomore Chris Collins, whose 12 points included 4 of 8 3-point shots, then took a 25-foot shot that missed with 35 seconds to go. Thurman took the rebound, and Arkansas guard Clint McDaniel was fouled and made one free throw with 28.4 seconds to play for a 74-70 lead.
Collins then missed on a drive with 19 seconds to go. Corey Beck took the rebound and was fouled by Lang, who fouled out with 17.2 seconds remaining, having led the Blue Devils with 15 points. Beck made one foul shot for a 75-70 lead.
Cherokee Parks, who scored 14 points with 7 rebounds despite a strained left knee he suffered Saturday night, scored on an offensive rebound with 10.2 seconds left to bring the Blue Devils within 75-72. McDaniel, fouled by Collins with 9 seconds to play, missed the first free throw to allow Duke to cling to a chance to tie the game. But McDaniel’s second shot was good for a 4-point lead, and a Presidential championship celebration was seconds away.
"I think the President’s reaction was pride," Richardson said. "The President is from a small state. There’s a lot of pride in that state. And the Razorbacks are its pride. It’s pride and joy. And that, I think, is the reason he was probably teary-eyed when I visited with him. Because something great had happened in a great state."
Supporters of the North Carolina Tar Heels, who were everywhere this weekend despite their school’s second-round exit, were quick to point out that the school’s first women’s championship on Sunday meant that U.N.C. held the men’s and women’s championships — for a period of approximately 29 hours. . . .. Duke’s 39 N.C.A.A. tournament victories under COACH MIKE Krzyzewski place him fourth behind DEAN SMITH (56), JOHN WOODEN (47) and BOB KNIGHT (40).