Arkansas senior guard Daryl Macon minced no words when asked by the “SEC Now” crew about his Razorbacks’ opening round victory over South Carolina Thursday in the SEC Tournament at St. Louis.
“I don’t think we played very well in this game,” Macon said. “We know we let them back in the game. We’re going to have to come back and play better tomorrow.”
Arkansas vs. Florida
Date: Friday, Mar. 9
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Location: SEC Tournament, St. Louis
Television: SEC Network
Macon’s assessment was frank and on the mark. Arkansas didn’t shoot as well from the field (42.9 percent) or the three-point line (30.8 percent) as they usually do, but the Hogs did play well enough to chant the single-elimination tournament mantra of “survive and advance” with their 69-65 victory over the Gamecocks.
The sixth-seeded Hogs (22-10) square off with third-seeded Florida (20-11) at approximately 8:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals. The Razorbacks lost to Florida, 88-73, in Gainesville, Fla. on Jan. 17 in their only meeting this season.
In the other quarterfinals, top-seeded Auburn (25-6) faces ninth-seeded Alabama at noon, fourth-seeded Kentucky meets 12th-seeded Georgia at approximately 2:30 p.m., and second-seeded Tennessee plays seventh-seeded Mississippi State. Should Arkansas defeat Florida, the Hogs would play the winner of Tennessee-Mississippi State game at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
What the Razorbacks did do well Thursday night was shoot free throws. The Razorbacks hit 23 of 26 free-throw opportunities to shoot 88.5 percent. South Carolina only cashed in on 10 of 16 free-throw chances for 62.5 percent. The difference in the game was at the free-throw line.
South Carolina, which defeated Ole Miss, 85-84, in Wednesday’s opening round, struggled hitting just 38.3 percent of its shots from the field and just 8 of 25 from three-point land.
The Gamecocks also suffered 19 turnovers to the Razorbacks’ 14, but South Carolina managed to control the tempo of the ballgame, making it difficult on the Hogs in half-court situations. Arkansas led by as many as 15 points, but poor shot selection, turnovers, and other mistakes allowed South Carolina back in the game.
The Gamecocks half-court defense pushed the Razorbacks’ offense back and forced several last-second attempts as the shot clock ticked toward expiration. Arkansas’ misses kept South Carolina in the game as well as two well-timed three-pointers by Frank Booker.
The biggest shot of the game proved to be a deep, second-half three-pointer by Jaylen Barford just before the shot clock expired that hit all net and extended the Razorbacks’ cushion to 5.
Barford anticipated a pass to the top of the key and made a steal for an easy layup to give Arkansas a 7-point lead, but South Carolina scored five straight points to cut Arkansas’ lead to 2.
Arkansas salted the game away at the free-throw line against a resilient Gamecocks squad that was led by Chris Silva with 15 points and 11 rebounds and Make Kotsar with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Booker scored 11.
Barford led the Hogs with 17 points and made 3 steals to counter his 3 turnovers. Macon, who once again hit key free throws down the stretch to ice the game for the Razorbacks, scored 12 points and passed out 4 assists.
Adrio Bailey and Darious Hall each added 9 points. Daniel Gafford scored just 8 points as point around the rim were hard to come by for the Razorbacks against South Carolina’s stout defense. Anton Beard passed out 5 assists and scored 7 points.
Arkansas’ starting guard trio of Beard, Macon and Barford played 37, 30 and 29 minutes respectively with Gafford and Bailey playing 25 and 24 minutes. Their accumulation of minutes shouldn’t hurt them despite the Gators having fresh leges coming into tonight’s contest thanks to the double bye. Florida brings a three-game winning streak into the tournament.
Kent State series opens with doubleheader
The format for the No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks’ weekend series with Kent State has been altered because of the expected rain on Saturday.
The Hogs (9-3) will play a doubleheader against the Golden Flashes (6-3) at 3 p.m. Friday with 30 minutes between games. The series will resume for the final game at 1 p.m. Sunday. The games can be streamed on the SEC Network Plus or the WatchESPN app.
Blaine Knight (0.53 ERA) is expected to start the opening game with Isaiah Campbell (1.88 ERA) taking the second game on Friday. Bryce Bonnin is expected to start on Sunday.
The Razorbacks have 17 home runs through 12 games with Eric Cole and Casey Martin leading the way with three apiece.
Martin earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors after a strong weekend in the Hogs’ series wins over Dayton and Southern Cal. The Lonoke native led all Razorbacks hitters with .444 average in the two series, and Martin is hitting .414 on the season with a .793 slugging percentage.