Former Razorback John Engskov enjoyed a golden era like no other in Arkansas basketball history.
The guard from Berryville played a deep reserve role in 1993-96 on teams that cumulatively produced the best three-year run in program history: a national championship, national runner-up finish and Sweet 16 appearance.
His teams, along with the great Todd Day/Lee Mayberry teams of the early 1990s and Ron Brewer/Sidney Moncrief teams of the late 1970s, are a big reason why the Arkansas basketball program is No. 2 all-time in win percentage against AP top-5 opponents in the AP era. It’s a percentage that just got better after Tuesday night’s home win vs No. 1 Auburn:
The high level of winning that Engskov experienced first-hand must explain why he decided to weigh in on Tuesday morning against the prospect of Razorback fans storming the court of Bud Walton Arena if Arkansas beat Auburn:
To Engskov’s point, Arkansas was 22-5 versus Auburn in games played in Fayetteville before Tuesday night. The Tigers certainly don’t carry the institutional prestige of Kentucky, or even Florida. And yet Engskov, as a strategic wealth management advisor, had to have known he was risking blowback if the Hogs indeed won and the court was stormed.
Boy, did he get it.
Because the Hogs beat Auburn in a way that was even more awesome than most imagined scenarios, an 80-76 overtime thriller than saw Devo Davis throw down a self alley-oop, then rush to center court, Auburn’s Wendell Green trailing him (foolishly looking for a confrontation) while students disgorged from the stands of a historically packed Bud Walton Arena to descend onto the court in a cacophony of glee while the lights dramatically flickered on and off.
As a result, the Arkansas basketball staff had to hold head coach Eric Musselman back from the melee, as this video shows:
“We had a plan to get me out of there right away, which we did,” Musselman said afterward. “Not right away, but quickly enough. When I went out earlier today, the students were asking me if we won would I take my shirt off. I said yeah, if we win. We took my shirt off and I went back out and wanted to celebrate with the students. I think the big thing with a scene like that is that you want everybody to have fun, be safe.”
Significance of Arkansas vs Auburn
All things considered, it’s the most important regular season win of the 21st century for the program. The opponent’s record mattered, not the name of the opponent. It could have been Vanderbilt or Ole Miss or South Carolina. If they had entered Bud Walton as the No. 1 team in the nation, riding a 19-game winning streak, they would have gotten the same kind of focus and attention.
Of course, it didn’t help that some of the Auburn basketball players danced on the Razorback logo at center court before the game, either. “We didn’t like them dancing on our logo,” said Jaylin Williams, whose late basket forced overtime. “That was disrespectful to us. That added fuel to the fire.”
Add up all the elements, and the night became more about Arkansas basketball fans getting to revel in the novelty of a program beating a No. 1-ranked team for the first time ever in Fayetteville (and only second time ever) than anything else.
That was the vibe coming from a lot of the Arkansas basketball fans responding to Engskov after the game. “If they can do it on the football field this season, they can do it here,” DBAR Tweeted. “Give these kids their joy! Covid has robbed them of so much. Worth a fine!”
Matt Bell dove in this this hilarity: “John, I started your ass every time I played Coach K College Bball on the Sega. Why? B/c I loved the underdog kid from Berryville. We’ve been a damn underdog for 25 yrs. These kids had to listen to their parents talk about a time when u or the Hogs were relevant. Storm away #WPS”
A lot of fans made the point that the visuals on national TV and splashed everywhere online make for a great recruiting tool. But, really, it boils down to giving the younger generations a taste of that sweet, sweet candy from days of yore.
“31 years ago, I camped out as a student for six days to watch #1 UNLV at Barnhill,” Tweeted Shelley Simpson, CCO at J.B. Hunt. “Turned out different than what we planned but not tonight. My teenage girls stormed the court while I danced and celebrated. Next generation got to experience what we grew up on tonight.”
At least one fan did agree with Engskov: “You don’t do it for beating Auburn basketball, I don’t care what they’re ranked,” wrote Drew Heim. “The expectation is we beat Auburn basketball at home, as we’ve done 22 of the last 27 games. Act like you expect to do it again.”
It appears a vast majority of fans disagree with Engskov on this one. More unexpectedly, so does at least one Auburn basketball influencer.
Auburn Basketball Host Sees Silver Lining
Kyle Loomis runs the livestream postgame shows for Auburn basketball on the E2C Network. On this particular night, his livestream show eventually got overrun by Arkansas fans to the point of distraction, but before it got to that point, he told Auburn fans he liked what he saw transpire after the final buzzer.
“I enjoyed the heck out of watching them storm the court. Is that odd to say? Is that strange? Does that feel sacrilegious? Does that feel wrong?”
“For for the very first time, someone’s storming the court for someone other than Kentucky, and it feels real good,” he added. “It feels real good to have someone be so happy that they took you down, that they would storm the court over you. And not because it’s some silly rivalry or something like that. It would make sense if Alabama or Georgia would do something like that, but Arkansas, on their own court, decided, ‘You’re worthy of us storming the court.’ Feels good, doesn’t it? Am I happy about the loss? No, but I am happy about what this means to where our program has risen to.”
So there you have it. We already knew Bud Walton Arena one of the most fearsome venues on earth, as The Athletic’s Eamonn Brennan pointed out after the game: “JD Notae, who had four blocks and three steals with his 28 points and five rebounds, hit massive shots and levitated Bud Walton Arena to a height that should terrify the rest of the SEC. When Arkansas is playing well there, they can beat anyone.”
What Loomis’ take also shows, though, is that some fans of other teams see court stormings at Bud Walton Arena as a badge of honor for themselves.
That’s pretty impressive stuff. Arkansas isn’t yet back to where it was in the 1990s in terms of matching the institutional prestige of Kentucky, but it’s getting there. Wildcat fans don’t storm the court at Rupp Arena because their team is almost never an underdog at home.
The way Eric Musselman has things cooking for Arkansas basketball, it could be a long time before the same happens with the Razorbacks again.
See Hog fans start to pour into Kyle Loomis’ Auburn safe space around 10:30 here:
Eric Musselman Quotes after Arkansas vs Auburn
On JD Notae: “He took 20 shots, but he got to the line 14 times. We asked J.D. to do a lot. We had him in the first half guarding Wendell Green, then moved. He puts so much pressure on the defense because he gets so many shots up. He was able to do that for us and then the 14 FTAs (free-throw attempts) was huge.”
“I thought we did a good job of getting into the body early, not late, you get into a shot blocker late by the rim. People talk about doing that. It’s too late. It’s going to get blocked. You got to get into the body early, 15 feet out. And I thought JD Notae did a great job of that.”
On what the historic win meant to his family:
“I’m really happy that my daughter had dance tonight and her dance teacher told her she had to go to dance. She was able to make the second half. My wife and daughter have never really been in the locker room except after a NCAA Tournament team.”
“My ex-wife flew in from San Francicso, so Michael’s mom was here. It’s pretty cool, the only thing that sucks is my younger son Matthew had too many classes today so he couldn’t be here to experience it. Just to see the look of our parents, our players after the game is really cool.”
On the Razorbacks’ defense:
“The defense was incredible. We keep getting better defensively, even sometimes when teams hit shots. Jabari Smith is a right-handed player that loves to go left. It takes a lot of scouting to pick that up and then it’s really hard for a student-athlete or college player to force a right-handed guy left. So I give our guys a lot of credit for grasping the game plan.”
20,327 fans attended this game to set a record for largest crowd in Bud Walton Arena history (the previous record was 20,320 vs Kentucky on Jan. 26, 1997). The last time Arkansas had an attendance of at least 20,000 was on March 3, 2001, against Georgia (20,274), as HawgBeat.com’s Andrew Hutchinson notes.
“The student section was insane,” Musselman said. “You can go to basketball games all over the country for the next 50 years and there’s not going to be a crowd that’s better than that. I hope that this is the beginning, as we look toward the end of our home games that we can continue to build on this.”
“There’s not anybody that walked out of here that didn’t have fun at this game, that’s a guarantee. Unless it was an Auburn fan and there weren’t many.”
And yet, as we found out from Kyle Loomis, it was possible for some Auburn fans to walk away borderline pleased with the court storming.
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