As Rashad Madden’s potential game-winning half-court heave bounded off the rim as the final buzzer sounded, Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament bubble burst and its Southeastern Conference Tournament losing skid reached seven games, falling 71-69 to the 13-seed Gamecocks.
The loss also marked the sixth consecutive year the Razorbacks failed to advance past their opening game in the SEC Tournament.
The Razorbacks got off to a quick start to begin the contest, scoring the game’s first five points on Coty Clarke jumpers and connecting on five of their first six from the floor.
But South Carolina held Arkansas’ offense in check after its hot start. The Razorbacks made just two of their next 11 shots and were held without a field goal for five minutes, allowing South Carolina to hang around.
The Gamecocks only took a 35-32 lead into the halftime break, however, following an Anthlon Bell three-pointer to beat the buzzer.
After the intermission, the contest was as back-and-forth as they come, with 11 of the 15 ties in the game coming in the latter period.
Arkansas turned up the defensive intensity midway through the second half and took, what seemed at the time, a commanding four-point lead. But the Razorbacks faltered down the stretch, allowing too many offensive rebounds to the feisty Gamecock frontline.
South Carolina pounded Arkansas on the glass, winning the overall rebounding battle 40-26. But the Gamecocks’ 15 offensive rebounds did the Razorbacks in, allowing for second chance points and extra possessions.
“We came up with stops and rebounds in the last minute and a half of the game,” Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin said. “You have to do that to win games.”
The Gamecocks took a one-point lead with just under one minute left in regulation after Brenton Williams, a 95 percent free throw shooter entering the game, split a pair at the charity stripe.
The Razorbacks got two shots in the paint on their final possessions, but missed from near point-blank range each time. South Carolina would split two free throws again with three seconds remaining, which led to Madden’s missed halfcourt heave at the buzzer.
"SC had more fight in them today,” Mike Anderson said. “Rebounding was the big difference in the game."
South Carolina lived at the charity stripe Thursday, sinking more free throws (30) than Arkansas attempted (26). The Gamecocks made 30 of 41 from the foul line to Arkansas’ 20-for-26 performance.
Frank Martin’s squad was led by 17 points from freshman Sindarius Thornwell and a career-high 16 points from Laimonas Chatkevicius. Brenton Williams also added 10 points, eight coming at the free throw line.
The Razorbacks got good efforts from Clarke, who finished with a team-high 13 points, five rebounds and three assists. Madden poured in 11 points and Michael Qualls added 10 points.
Moses Kingsley also gave quality minutes off the bench, scoring seven points and swatting away four shots in 18 minutes.
Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament hopes are all but over after the loss, but an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament is still a possibility for the 21-11 Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks must now play the waiting game as their fate lies in the hands of the postseason selection committees.