ATLANTA, Ga. — Arkansas’ basketball season came to an end in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday with a 91-81 setback to South Carolina, but the Razorbacks didn’t go down without a fight.
Arkansas ended the season 12-16 overall while South Carolina improved to 22-9 and advanced to Friday’s quarterfinal round.
The Razorbacks struggled shooting the ball on Thursday, and trailed by 21 points at the half and by 24, 46-22, with 14:38 to play in the game.
Arkansas used increased defensive pressure and head coach Stan Heath rotated players in and out for offensive and defensive situations, and the Razorbacks got as close as 84-76 with 1:25 to play.
South Carolina converted at the free throw line and UA could not get any closer as Brandon Wallace and Carlos Powell made two free throws each to push the margin to 88-76 with 1:09 to play.
Michael Jones, who came off the bench and scored a team-high 15 points, hit a jumper to cut the deficit to 10, but Wallace scored eight seconds later.
Jonathon Modica came back with a three for UA, the sixth trey of the second half for Arkansas, to close within nine with 42 seconds remaining. The Razorbacks could have gotten closer, but Jones missed a three-point attempt with 33 seconds to go and Wen Mukubu missed a pair of free throws with 31 seconds to go before Wallace hit one of two free throws for the final margin.
Arkansas got off to a decent start and led 5-2 with all five points coming from Eric Ferguson. The game was tied 7-7, but USC scored 15 straight to take control at 22-7 at the 11:05 mark.
A layup by Modica got UA within 24-14, but the Gamecocks closed the half with a 15-4 run and led 39-18 at the break.
USC led 56-33 with 10:03 left, but Arkansas scored 10 straight, and Jones’ second three of the run got UA within 56-43. South Carolina pushed it back to 67-47 and led 72-55 at the 4:14 mark, but a three-point play by Modica, two free throws by Kendrick Davis and a dunk by Mukubu got the Hogs within 73-63.
Mike Boynton, who had 32 points for USC and made 17 of 19 free throws, hit two at the line with 2:58 left to give the Gamecocks a 77-63 lead. A three by Davis and a putback by Olu Famutimi helped UA get within 79-68 before a three by Modica and a three-point play by Jones cut the deficit to 84-76.
USC shot 44 percent from the floor for the game and made 39 of 50 free throws, 78 percent. UA shot 40.7 percent for the game, including 50 in the second half after a 23.8 percent performance in the first half (5-21), and made 26 of 31 free throws, 83.9 percent.
Modica had 14 points and eight rebounds, Ferguson and Famutimi 13 points, and Davis and Vincent Hunter 10 each.