The Razorbacks are back in the SEC Championship Game!
Arkansas took advantage of playing a Vanderbilt team without a lot of depth who was playing their third game in three days (including an overtime period on Friday). The Commodores did not play well, shooting only 30% for the entire game. The first half stayed close on account of Vanderbilt getting to the free throw line, but Arkansas picked up its level of play in the second half, and Vanderbilt couldn’t keep up.
The Razorbacks held a 4-point lead at halftime, but as we’ve seen somewhat frequently over the last month or so, the Hogs came out of the break landing haymakers. Arkansas went on a 29-6 run that lasted for the first 11:05 of the period, and the game was out of reach. The Hogs let up a bit too early and allowed Vanderbilt to get as close as 14 points with 3:15 to go, but the threat was never serious.
Jaylen Barford led the way for Arkansas. He scored a game-high 18 points and scored four layups during the big run for the Razorbacks and his ability to drive to the basket put pressure on Vanderbilt’s defense all day. Moses Kingsley finished with a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds to go along with a block and a steal. Daryl Macon scored 15 points. Dusty Hannahs had 16 and Manny Watkins scored 9.
We should take a moment to acknowledge Hannahs reaching the 1,000-point mark as a Razorback. It’s not easy to do in two seasons. Three years ago, when it was announced he was transferring to Arkansas, I was not supportive of the move for Arkansas. I didn’t think Hannahs would be anywhere near as good as he’s been. I’m happy to say I was wrong on this one. He’s been great, and has a chance to reach 1,500 points for his entire career.
Back to the game. Arkansas had a chance to take the game over from the beginning. Vanderbilt didn’t score a single point until 6:03 into the game, but Arkansas couldn’t take too much advantage and was only up 9-0 at that point. Vanderbilt went on a quick run and actually took a three-point lead, but it didn’t last long as Watkins, Trey Thompson and Dustin Thomas each made shots to give Arkansas a lead they’d never lose. Arkansas never broke away in the first half, but came out guns blazing in the second to put Vandy away.
The Razorbacks are likely a lock for the NCAA Tournament even if they’d lost this game. But it’s nice to get a win over Vanderbilt on a neutral floor. The Commodores had jumped into the top-35 after their win over Florida on Friday. This may end up being Arkansas’ best resume win to date. It’s not likely to jump Arkansas out of the 8/9 game, however. Arkansas’ only chance at that - if it’s even possible - comes tomorrow.
Arkansas advances to play Kentucky in the SEC Championship Game. It’s the 7th SEC Championship appearance for the Razorbacks and the fourth against the Wildcats. Arkansas played Kentucky tightly for the first half in January in Lexington, but Kentucky ran away with the game in the second half. Arkansas has played like a different team for most of the last month, so it’ll be fun to see if the Hogs can give another good effort. Kentucky reached the finals after a tough, tightly contested game against Alabama.
The game tips at noon on Sunday. And don’t forget to set your clocks forward tonight and miss it!