Hogs rally past Vanderbilt, 72-71

ATLANTA- Gary Ervin's field goal with 0:11 remaining vaulted the Arkansas Razorbacks to their second win in a week over Vanderbilt, 72-71. Shan Foster's 3-point attempt from the corner with 5 seconds remaining missed, and Ervin rebounded to preserve the victory. The loss extended Vanderbilt's 56-year absence from the SEC Tournament Championship game.

Vanderbilt was plagued with foul trouble throughout the first half, as the Commodores picked up their ninth team foul with 8:44 remaining in the half and Ross Neltner received his third personal with 4:04 remaining. Arkansas raced out to an early 6-5 lead but a basket by Dan Cage put the Commodores ahead for the first time, 8-6, with 15:10 remaining in the half. Arkansas then retook the lead, 14-13, with 10:45 remaining on a 3-point play by Charles Thomas.

Derrick Byars' lay-up pulled the Commodores back to within 1 at 25-24 with 4:04 remaining in the half. A technical foul was called on Commodore head coach Kevin Stallings for arguing a call with 3:36 left, but the Razorback's Patrick Beverley missed both free throws. A 3-point shot by Sonny Weems put Arkansas up 33-27 with 1:40 remaining. Byars closed out first-half scoring with a dunk to leave the Commodores trailing 33-29 at the break.

The two teams traded baskets for much of the second half before a Shan Foster 3-pointer tied the game 48-48 with 12:28 remaining. Ted Skuchas' hook shot gave the Commodores their first lead of the second half, 51-50. Jermaine Beal's 3-point shot gave the Commodores their biggest lead of the game at 60-52 with 6:39 remaining.

The Razorbacks would battle back. Sonny Weems' 3-pointer inched the Razorback to within 2 at 63-61. The Hog's Beverley completed a 3-point play after being fouled while making lay-up to give Arkansas back the lead, 66-65 with 3:36 left. Vanderbilt's Foster made 2 free throws with 2:37 remaining to give the Commodores back a 67-66 lead. But a Beverley 3-pointer and a Townes free throw put the Razorbacks back in front, 70-67, with 1:37 to go.

Free throws by Foster pulled Vanderbilt to within 2, 70-69, with 1:15 left. After a traveling call on Arkansas, a crisply executed inbounds play to Neltner put the Commodores back in front, 71-70. Ervin, who scored only 6 points for the Razorbacks, then scored his big basket with 0:11 seconds remaining.

An unhappy Dan Cage reflected on the loss after the game.

"It's very indicative of post-season play in the tournament, "Cage said. "Every single possession counts. Some people might look at the last couple of possessions and say that's why we lost but that's simply not true.

"We had about 5 or 6 minutes in the first half where we really just didn't play good basketball. Those are the plays that come back to haunt you, not taking care of business in the first half and not taking care of business early in the second half."

Byars led Vanderbilt in scoring with 15. Foster added 13 and Cage 12. Arkansas was led by Beverley, who finished with 18 points.

Vanderbilt has not made an appearance in the SEC Tournament Championship game since 1951 when they defeated Kentucky. Vanderbilt is now 28-45 all-time in SEC Tournament games.

Vanderbilt falls to 20-11 and will now await the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's announcement on Sunday evening in hopes of a very possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas improves to 20-12 and will face Mississippi State on Saturday in the semifinals.

Vanderbilt fans decked out in white shirts and wearing white sweat bands as they band together to support their team. (VM/Don Yates)

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