DES MOINES, Iowa — Heading into Thursday's NCAA Tournament matchup, Arkansas had never beaten Illinois in five previous chances.
Win number one came on the biggest of stages.
The No.8 seed Razorbacks ended that losing streak and extended its stay at the big dance with a 73-63 win over the No. 9 seed in Des Moines.
Arkansas advances to the Round of 32 for the third straight season under Eric Musselman, with the Hogs coming off back-to-back trips to the Elite 8.
Musselman started his only two players back from last year's Elite 8 trip, Kamani Johnson and Devo Davis, along with Ricky Council IV, Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr.
Davis showed that tournament experience, setting the tone for Arkansas with 16 points and six rebounds. Council IV recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
As a team, Arkansas made its mark on the boards and on the defensive end, outrebounding Illinois 42-34 and forcing 17 Illinois turnovers.
After initially going down 2-0, Arkansas responded with an 8-0 run to take an 8-2 lead in the first media timeout. Davis would score six of the Hogs' first 10 points.
With both offenses looking sluggish early on, the highlight of the first eight minutes turned out to actually be a missed basket at both ends. Specifically, a missed basket leading to a wedgie...
Eventually, the ball did start to go through the hoop for the Hogs.
A Nick Smith Jr. transition layup and mid-range jumper highlighted a 10-0 run that helped give Arkansas its largest lead of the half, 23-10. Arkansas held Illinois to 22% shooting from the field through the first 12 minutes of the game.
Ricky Council IV came out strong in the first half with 10 points. His three-pointer with 4:06 left before the break put Arkansas up by 14, 32-18.
The Razorbacks entered the halftime break with a 36-26 advantage. Arkansas outrebounded Illinois 25-16 and held the Illini to 28% shooting in the half.
Much like in recent games, Arkansas' opponent started the second half stronger than the Hogs did. An and-one from Illini guard Terrance Shannon pulled Illinois within 41-36.
However, the Hogs immediately responded with a 10-0 run of their own. After a Black free throw, Davis added a three from the corner and a tip-in putback to spur the Hogs to their biggest lead of the game, 51-36.
Illinois did not make it easy on Arkansas however. Brad Underwood's team kept slowly chipping away in the second half, and a 7-0 run brought them with 62-57 with 2:29 left.
Arkansas didn't let Illinois get any closer than that, with four straight points by Council IV putting the Hogs back up by nine.
Eric Musselman's team advances to play No. 1 seed Kansas in the Round of 32 on Saturday. Kansas, the defending national champions, defeated No. 16 seed Howard 96-68 in their opener Thursday.
The winner between the Hogs and Jayhawks will advance to the Sweet 16 in Las Vegas.