Here's me early in the game when Anthlon Bell was hot and Arkansas built up a quick 20-point lead:
Bell's hitting. We can go ahead and wrap this up.— Doc Harper (@doc_harper) March 6, 2015
And then here's me when the 20 point lead had not only completely evaporated but it looked like Arkansas was going to get blown out:
Has a team ever had a 20 point lead and lost by 20?— Doc Harper (@doc_harper) March 6, 2015
Then the Hogs won. And covered.
Arkansas had a 20-point lead with 6 minutes left in the first half. With 6 minutes left in the game, Arkansas had an 11-point deficit. That's a 31-point swing in a 20-minute span. It was a 48-17 run. There was absolutely no reason to think the Hogs would come back to win at that point.
But they did.
The Hogs closed on an 18-3 run in those final six minutes, kickstarted by a pair of threes from Bell, a couple of shots from Michael Qualls, and it was closed by an offensive putback from Bobby Portis before he made the final two free throws.
The game was nearly sent to overtime. The refs called a phantom foul on Michael Qualls as Sendarius Thornwell attempted what would have been a game-tying three pointer, which gave him three free throws to tie the game, but a monitor review showed he clearly stepped on the three-point line, effectively ending any threat.
So the Hogs picked up the win. It's their 6th of SEC play and their 7th overall. Plus, despite the Gamecocks' paltry SEC record, they have an RPI hovering around 100 due to a successful run back in non conference play, so this is a fairly solid win for the Razorbacks.
Some people have said this game didn't really matter because the Hogs had already locked up the 2-seed in the SEC Tournament and a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Those points are true, but understand (I know it's been a while) the Hogs are firmly in "playing for seeding" territory. Each game from here on out could impact which line the Hogs end up on and against whom they're playing. Want the best possible setup for a potential Sweet 16 run (or - gazing at stars - beyond)? Win these games at the end of the season. Lose some of these last few games and the Hogs could lose their 5-seed and end up as a 6 or 7. That matters.
The Razorbacks' stars were stars tonight. Portis finished with 24 points and 8 rebounds. Ky Madden had 9 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds. Michael Qualls had 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals - and a two or three dunks that may end up on SportsCenter later. Plus, the Hogs go into another gear when Bell and/or Anton Beard are hitting their shots. Tonight it was Bell coming off the bench for 17 points on five threes.
I'm not going to pretend to know why Arkansas went so ice cold for those 20 minutes and allowed so many points. It was such a long period of time that many factors contributed. Bell may have been taken out of the game too early. Portis went to the bench for a few minutes late in the first half for some unknown reason. South Carolina went from turning the ball over freely in the first few minutes to holding onto the ball, taking shots, and preventing fast break layups for the Hogs. Maybe Arkansas just slowed down a gear with the big lead. Maybe it's a combination of everything. Regardless, it's maddening, and something that easily could have cost Arkansas as it could have against Texas A&M last week, and still could in the future.
Record book watch:
Ky Madden tied Ron Huery for fifth place on Arkansas' all-time career assist list with 351. He's now just seven points from tying Michael Washington for the 31st spot.
Bobby Portis now has 950 career points. Michael Qualls now has 985. He's officially on 1,000-point watch in the regular-season finale against LSU.