Arkansas won. The Razorbacks are playing Vanderbilt in the semifinals Saturday afternoon. I didn’t think Arkansas would win as the game went on. They did not play well. But they played a tiny bit better than Ole Miss.
Neither team ever held a double digit lead. There were 12 lead changes. Arkansas only made two field goals in the last 9:40 of the game but was 10-10 from the free throw line during that stretch. That’s all they needed.
Moses Kingsley’s blocked shots may have saved the game for Arkansas, though. He blocked 4 in the second half, including two in the last minute. The first was on a short turnaround from Ole Miss’ All-SEC 1st Teamer Sebastian Saiz, and the other was on the Rebels’ scramble of a last possession. Another one earlier in the game launched an Arkansas fast break. They were all critical.
The Razorbacks’ most important offensive possession was their final one. Clinging to a one-point lead, Jaylen Barford drove to the basket and missed a tough shot, but the rebound was tipped into the backcourt where Daryl Macon was waiting for it, and the clock had ticked down enough by that point that Ole Miss had to foul. Macon made both of the free throws to give Arkansas the clinching three-point lead.
It was a very frustrating game because it felt like Arkansas was playing faster than Ole Miss and should have won fairly easily, but the Razorbacks struggled to make shots. They only shot 36.5% from the floor and missed lord knows how many shots from the paint. But Arkansas was 20-23 from the free throw line, which was just enough to put them over the top.
Macon led the Hogs with 17 points, 9 of which came from the free throw line. Barford and Dusty Hannahs each had 13. Manny Watkins reached above his average with 9 points. Kingsley only had 8, but his 6 rebounds and 4 blocks were big time.
It didn’t really feel good until the last 30 seconds, but Arkansas advances. It’s only the second time in 8 years the Hogs didn’t lose their first SEC Tournament game. They get home-town Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon. The Commodores are coming off an overtime victory over Florida that likely locked up an NCAA Tournament bid for Vanderbilt. Saturday will be their third game in three days.
Arkansas has not played very well against Vanderbilt in the two games this season. The Hogs stole a win in Nashville in January with a furious comeback in the final minutes, and then Vanderbilt returned the favor by coming to Fayetteville and scorching the Hogs from beyond the arc in the first few minutes of the game and won comfortably. The Razorbacks will likely have to put forth a better effort tomorrow if they want to return the the championship game for the second time in three seasons.