NASHVILLE – For the fifth straight season, the Razorback basketball team will leave the SEC Tournament without winning a game.
Rod Odom had 16 points, Kyle Fuller 19 and Kendren Johnson 13 as 10th-seeded Vanderbilt raced out to a 15-point second-half lead and then held off a frantic rally by seventh-seeded Arkansas to win 75-72 Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena in the second round of the league event.
"It's disappointing because I thought our team was really primed for this tournament," Razorback second-year head coach Mike Anderson said. "I always say the most important game is the first game. It's a little disappointing from that standpoint, but he wasn't from our guys not trying."
Vanderbilt (15-16) took their largest lead of the night at 61-46 on Shelby Moat's bucket with 10:01 left and still had a 64-51 lead with just over six minutes left before one final push from Arkansas (19-13).
The Razorbacks actually cut that deficit to 70-68 on two free throws by B.J. Young with 50 seconds and Michael Qualls got a steal at midcourt, but Arkansas forced the issue and almost had a turnover before junior Marshawn Powell missed a forced shot with 29 seconds left.
"When we play the style we play, you never are really out of a game," Anderson said. "Even there in that last 30 seconds we created a steal and we end up kind of forcing something that probably wasn't there. You get that basket there or get to the free throw line, it's a different game."
As it was in a game in which the two teams combined to go a woeful 37-of-64 from the free throw line, the Commodores then put the game away by three of its final four charity tosses.
"Well, it was an interesting game, obviously," Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. "We made things harder on ourselves at the end than we needed to. We missed some foul shots. We had some turnovers, but you know, earlier in the season we would have lost this game. The foul shots, the turnovers would have freaked us out.
"In the end, we maintained our composure and kept getting stops and we made enough free throws and made enough plays to win the game," noted Stallings, whose team moves on to play Kentucky at 6:30 on Friday night in the quarterfinals.
Young (16 points) and Powell (13 points, 9 rebounds) – the Razorbacks' two leading scorers – combined for 26 points, but only six of those came in the first half and they combined to go 9-of-23 from the field, 0-of-6 from 3-point range and 11-of-23 from the free throw line on the night.
"Your main guys have got to really bring it in this setting," Anderson said. "When I talk about that, there are guys like BJ Young and Marshawn Powell. Those are guys we count on big. They are our impact guys."
Powell manned up in the locker room after the game.
"It was terrible for me," Powell said. "Terrible...Just put it on me."
Arkansas fell behind 37-23 in the first before closing the half as Vanderbilt knocked down six 3-pointers.
"I was surprised by our sluggishness on defense and covering the shooters," Anderson said with a raspy voice that he said was from a sinus infection. "I think that's the killer."
Arkansas would cut its deficit to eight points by half and Powell and Young then scored the first two baskets of the second half to make it 38-34 – an 11-1 run to get back into the game.
The Razorbacks would outscore the Commodores after that sluggish start to the tune of 47-33 to put itself in position to win, but could not close it out after getting within two points late.
Michael Qualls added 10 points, Coty Clarke nine points and six rebounds, Anthlon Bell eight points and Rashad Madden 7 points, 7 rebounds, two blocks and no turnovers in a solid 24-minute effort at point guard.
"It's a hard loss," Madden said. "...Every game is a tough loss, but this one especially. We should have come out harder from the jump. If we would have played like we played at the end of the game at the beginning of the game, it probably would have been a different circumstance."
The Razorbacks were 24-of-55 from the field, 4-of-16 from 3-point range and had a 39-37 rebound advantage.
The Commodores were 23-of-56 from the field, hit 12-of-28 3-point attempts and had 12 turnovers to Arkansas' 11.
Anderson said he is determined to end this losing skid at the tournament next season for Arkansas, who has been one-and-done at the SEC Tournament for nine of the last 12 years.
"It gives me the mindset that – you know what – we ain't going to let it happen again," Anderson said. "But there's nothing you can do today. Vandy played better than we did today and we'll learn from it and hopefully it is going to make us better as we continue hopefully to play."
Arkansas will not wait to find out if it will receive an invitation to the NIT Tournament, something Anderson wants to play in.
"I'd love this team to continue to play," Anderson said. "They've had a good year. They've improved from last year. They did some good things. I think, you know, we have an opportunity to play and get some practice time that will only benefit our basketball team."
Madden echoed that sentiment.
"I would love to play as well, as many games as we can get," Madden said. "I feel that way and I am sure everybody in the locker room does, too. It's a game we enjoy and love to play. We get the opportunity – I'm all for it."
If Arkansas does not get a post-season bid, it's possible that this is the last Razorback game for both Powell and Young – who may turn professional instead of staying in college for another year.
"We'd love to keep playing," Young said. "I want to play as many games as we can and I feel like we played hard every game this season we came out there. Whether it was a win or a loss, we fought and tried to stay together."
Vanderbilt 75, Arkansas 72
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