FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Ky Madden may have been the only person in Bud Walton Arena who didn’t see the game-winning dunk Tuesday night.
The junior expected Arkansas and Kentucky to carry their long battle to a second overtime right after his 3-point attempt in the final seconds left his hands. Madden knew it was missing the mark, so he turned and began to head back downcourt.
“I just heard the crowd roar and looked up,” Madden said of Qualls putback dunk with two-tenths of a second left on the clock. “Good play. We needed it.”
Arkansas avoided an 0-3 hole in Southeastern Conference play thanks to Qualls’ emphatic moment, which helped the Razorbacks wrap up an 87-85 overtime win against the 13th-ranked Wildcats. Qualls has been known to produce his share of highlights on acrobatic dunks during his career, but Tuesday night’s game-winner will be remembered by the Razorbacks for a long time.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was asked afterward if he had ever been part of a game that ended with such an exclamation point. Nothing came to mind.
“It was an unbelievable finish,” Anderson said. “I’ll leave it at that. It was an unbelievable finish. You guys witnessed it. He just came out of nowhere.
“It was fortunate for us he was playing for the Razorbacks.”
Kentucky felt otherwise after suffering its first SEC loss, coming close to handing Arkansas its first back-to-back losses in Fayetteville since the 2011-12 season.
Guard James Young and Andrew Harrison were on the same side of the court as Qualls on his winning dunk, but got caught watching Madden’s shot. The 6-foot-6 Qualls raced in from the 3-point line after the ball left Madden’s hand and didn’t have anyone blocking his path as he jumped in the air, caught the ball and finished.
Young took the blame in the interview room after the game, but teammate Julius Randle wouldn’t let him shoulder the blame alone. Kentucky coach John Calipari said it was a case of his talented team — which consists of seven McDonald’s All-Americans — showing its youth at a critical moment.
“The last shot, the kid watched,” Calipari said. “My guy watched. The guy ran by him and dunked it. Well, he’s a freshman, and that’s what freshmen do.”
But Qualls didn’t blame the mistake on youth. He said it could happen to anyone.
In fact, Arkansas was stung by a last-second dunk off an inbounds pass during its 73-72 loss to Alabama-Birmingham during the 2009-10 season. But the most memorable game-winning dunk came at the end of the 1983 national title game. North Carolina State forward Lorenzo Charles plucked a shot that fell well short of the rim out of the air and dunked it through the basket to win the national title.
“I probably would’ve done the same thing if one of their guys was shooting,” Qualls said about Kentucky players losing track of him. “Just looking up. I saw him look up, but I wasn’t worried about who was there or not. I was going to go for it.”
Teammates on the floor appeared stunned when they saw the end result. Replays showed most of them paused as soon as Qualls completed his two-handed dunk.
Madden was near midcourt when he heard the crowd, then turned back to look at what he missed. Forward Bobby Portis began to walk to the Arkansas bench before processing what happened. Guard Alandise Harris clapped his hands just inside the 3-point line after the dunk and walked toward Qualls. Mardracus Wade raised his arms in the air before sprinting to wrap his arms around the night’s hero.
“I went to set a ball screen for Ky and then Ky shot it,” Portis said, recalling the final seconds. “I turned around and I saw Mike with the ball in his hands and he just came down and slammed it. It was a crazy feeling.”
The reaction was much more immediate — and raucous — on the Arkansas bench.
The Razorbacks started a wild celebration, jumping up and down after the Qualls dunk. Some even made their way on the floor to mob Qualls, thinking the game was over. Officials eventually put 0.2 seconds back on the clock.
Kentucky’s attempt at a full-court pass wasn’t successful after the ball was launched into the scoreboard, where it still remained Wednesday according to assistant coach Matt Zimmerman. It ended the game and kicked off more celebration with Qualls and teammates going over to the Arkansas student section to enjoy the win.
There was more reaction to the dunk when players and coaches met with the media.
“I just think it happened so fast,” Anderson said when asked if Kentucky’s defensive lapse is common in that situation. “I mean, you think about it. When (Madden) shot the ball and it was like maybe two seconds, I don’t know what it was. And so when you shoot it, what do you think? You think the game is over and it may have been, that’s debatable. He made a great play. That’s how I saw it. He made a great play.”
It’s hard to imagine Madden hasn’t seen it by now, either, considering the dunk ran on what seemed like an endless loop on ESPN late Tuesday and Wednesday night. It also was all over on sports websites, blogs and other social media platforms.
The dunk had topped 132,000 page views on YouTube by Wednesday afternoon.
More important: Qualls’ game-winning play secured Arkansas’ first win against a ranked team since beating second-ranked Florida last season. It also gave the Razorbacks a memory Anderson hopes they can build on with 15 SEC games left.
“He’s using what God has gifted him with,” Anderson said of Qualls’ dunk. “I mean, he’s the one guy on our team that can make a play because of his athletic ability. And we were witness to it (Tuesday). Not many guys could have done that.”