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Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford was the team's best player Thursday.

Arkansas beats South Carolina, and that’s all that matters at SEC Tournament

Eric Bolin

South Carolina just isn’t very good. Arkansas needed to put away a lesser, but feisty, Gamecocks team and simply advance. How the Razorbacks did it was irrelevant. Winning is all that matters from here on out.

Good thing, too, because the game was tiring. Not in an up-and-down, excitable kind of way, either. Boring. Unattractive. South Carolina does that to teams. That’s how it wins.

No such luck for Frank Martin’s boys on Thursday. Arkansas booted South Carolina from the SEC Tournament 69-64 in the final game of the round. The Gamecocks won’t be headed to the NCAA Tournament — although the NIT is a possibility — while Arkansas does the old cliched “live to play another day.”

Some absolutely mind-numbing basketball late in the first half helped ruin South Carolina’s upset bid. Although Arkansas tried like crazy to give the Gamecocks every chance.

With about 12 minutes left, the Razorbacks were comfortable. They led by 15 points. Life was smooth. Then they stopped rebounding, stopped making shots and stopped stopping South Carolina. At the under-8 timeout, that 15-point lead had turned into a 3-point lead. It was down to 2 points after Chris Silva made 2 free throws coming out of the under-4 minute timeout.

After that, simply put, Jaylen Barford took over.

He buried a 3-pointer, a prayer, to build the lead back to 5 points. The Razorbacks responded with a stop, which included a blocked shot and a turnover, and Barford went to the other end and followed with a lay-up. Seven points felt far more comfortable than 2.

Barford finished with 17 points, leading the team. The first-team All-SEC pick had just 4 points at halftime.

South Carolina built its own hole, really. The game was tied with less than 4 minutes left in the opening half. The Gamecocks kept surviving Arkansas salvos. They would be down 8, then 2, then 8, then 3, then 8, then tied. Not precisely those totals, but the game had that feel, like Arkansas was going to put South Carolina away then the underdog would pull back.

Those final 4 minutes, though, were atrocious. There was no pulling back from them. Arkansas didn’t even make a field goal in those final 4 minutes and still turned a tied game into an 8-point halftime lead. South Carolina players were too handsy. Arkansas built its 36-28 advantage by going 14 of 15 from the free-throw line in the first half. Eight of those came in that flurry.

Apparently the Gamecocks decided in the second half to stop touching, too, because four of Arkansas’ first five buckets came on a lay-in, a dunk and two more lay-ins. Easy as you like. The lead built to 14 points less than 4 minutes into the half before South Carolina’s rally in the middle part of the second half.

The highlight

Thank heavens for free throws. Guard Daryl Macon is one of the best in college basketball and his teammates helped on a night Arkansas needed all of them. The team went 23 of 26 from the line overall. They entered the game 12th in the SEC in free-throw percentage at .690.

The lowlight

Rebounding is a serious, serious problem. South Carolina outrebounded Arkansas 22-9 in the second half.

What’s next for Arkansas?

Arkansas gets another shot at Natural State native KeVaughn Allen and the third-seeded Florida Gators in the SEC quarterfinals. Florida won the teams’ first meeting by 15 points in January