ATLANTA (AP) -John Pelphrey was looking for his Arkansas team to play tough in the Southeastern Conference tournament, and the Razorbacks responded in a big way Friday.
Darian Townes and Gary Ervin each scored 18 points and Arkansas dominated No. 18 Vanderbilt inside, winning 81-75 to advance to the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals.
The Razorbacks (21-10) rolled to a 45-24 rebounding edge and outscored the Commodores 50-20 in the paint.
“We’ve had a tough time at times this year, especially on the road, being tough when we need to be tough,” Pelphrey said. “Tonight I thought we were.”
Arkansas will play No. 4 Tennessee in the next round after probably ending any question about its worthiness for the NCAA tournament.
Townes and Sonny Weems each had five offensive rebounds; Vanderbilt had only six.
“We got beaten badly on the boards,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We gave them way too many second chances, third chances and fourth chances. That was the difference. They pounded us on the boards. It was a total breakdown on our part.”
Vanderbilt couldn’t overcome the Razorbacks’ advantage inside, especially with SEC scoring leader Shan Foster scoring only 14 points, six below his average.
Alex Gordon led Vanderbilt (26-7) with 22 points. He had two 3-pointers and another long jumper in the final minute.
“We obviously have some work to do, but we are a good team,” Gordon said.
Foster was only 4-of-10 from the field.
“I don’t think we can expect Shan Foster to be Superman every night,” Stallings said.
The Commodores rallied to tie it twice in the second half, the last time at 58-58 on a 3-pointer by Gordon. But Ervin answered with back-to-back baskets, including a 3.
The Razorbacks made 10 of 12 free throws in the final minute after making only 3-of-7 in the first half. They finished 19-of-28 from the line for the game.
“I thought outside of fouling way too much in the first half we played very good basketball and it was good team basketball,” Pelphrey said.
Ervin said the Razorbacks were not thinking about their NCAA tournament hopes.
“We wanted to come out with a sense of urgency to win a basketball game; that was the only thing that was on our minds,” Ervin said. “We just wish we could have done the same thing during the season: play smart basketball, play with that intensity and that urgency to win ballgames.”
Charles Thomas finished with 13 points for Arkansas, which has won eight of the last nine in the series, including a home win over Vanderbilt on March 1. Arkansas also beat Vanderbilt in last year’s quarterfinals.
Patrick Beverley and Stefan Welsh had 11 points apiece for the Razorbacks.
Pelphrey said Beverley remained in the game despite dislocating his jaw.
Vanderbilt had only nine field goals in the first half but stayed close by making 16 of 19 free throws. Arkansas led 40-36 at the break on the strength of its 28-12 advantage in the paint.
“Their presence at the basket makes everything hard,” Stallings said. “It’s not as easy to get things right at the basket against them as it is against lots of teams.”
The Razorbacks lost 93-71 to Tennessee on Feb. 13. The Volunteers advanced to the tourney semis with an 89-87 victory over South Carolina on Friday.