ATLANTA — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson believed his team was built for the postseason. But the Razorbacks still couldn’t get past their first game Thursday.
Arkansas was knocked out of the SEC Tournament in its first game for the sixth straight year with the 71-69 loss to South Carolina in the Georgia Dome.
The fact was hard for Arkansas’ senior class — particularly fourth-year seniors Mardracus Wade, Kikko Haydar and Rickey Scott — to swallow after the game.
“It’s just tough being here for four years and never made it through the first game,” Wade said. “It’s just really heartbreaking.”
Arkansas’ seven-game losing streak at the SEC Tournament is the longest current drought in the conference. The Razorbacks and South Carolina both entered the 2014 SEC Tournament with six straight losses dating back to the 2008 season, but the Gamecocks are 2-0 this week with wins against Auburn and Arkansas.
Arkansas’ last SEC Tournament win came in a semifinal thriller against Tennessee during the 2008 SEC Tournament in Atlanta. Former Razorback Steven Hill made a last-second shot to help Arkansas advance with a 92-91 win during a tournament that was moved to Georgia Tech after a tornado hit the Georgia Dome. The Razorbacks lost to Georgia in the SEC Tournament championship game the next day.
Arkansas has since lost SEC Tournament openers to six teams (Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, Vanderbilt and South Carolina) in four cities (Atlanta, Nashville, Tenn., Tampa, Fla., and New Orleans).
“It’s not a legacy we wanted to leave,” Haydar said. “It’s tough.”
Mizzou holds on
Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament bubble likely burst with the South Carolina loss, but another conference foe held onto its hopes Thursday.
Missouri survived a 91-83 double overtime win against Texas A&M, advancing to the quarterfinals. The Tigers struggled to put away the Aggies at the end of regulation and the first overtime, but closed strong to improve to 22-10 this season.
It also sets up a game against top-ranked Florida this afternoon.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Missouri guard Jabari Brown said. “They’re the No. 1 team. They had a real good regular season, but it’s postseason now.
“It’s a new season and we’re looking forward to playing them.”
Arkansas freshman Moses Kingsley turned in an impressive performance in his postseason debut Thursday.
The forward logged more minutes than usual because of Bobby Portis’ foul trouble in the second half and finished with 7 points, 2 rebounds and 4 blocked shots in 18 minutes. Kingsley’s dunk with 7:34 left helped Arkansas take a 59-56 lead.
Kingsley’s 18 minutes were two shy of his career high (20 vs. Tennessee-Martin). The four blocks also were close to his career-best performance (five vs. Savannah State).
Alabama guard Trevor Releford’s college career ended with the Crimson Tide’s 68-56 loss to LSU on Thursday night. Releford scored 11 points in his final game, which was his lowest point total since being held to 10 points at Missouri on Jan. 18.
But coach Anthony Grant said it didn’t take away from his impact on the program.
“We’ll miss him greatly,” Grant said. “I told him after the game I’m just really proud of the way he’s, first of all, walked in as a freshman and had a lot on his shoulders from day one, the way he’s handled that. … Also, I’m appreciative of his commitment, his work ethic and his dedication to the program.”
Releford finished his career fourth on Alabama’s career scoring list.
Back and forth
The Arkansas-South Carolina game featured 15 ties and 21 lead changes Thursday.
Neither team led by more than six points. Most of the changes took place in the second half, when the largest lead was Arkansas’ four-point edge with 6:26 left.
“We hit some buckets, but none of that really matters if we don’t get stops,” Arkansas guard Ky Madden said. “They kept coming back and answering. It was crazy back and forth. We’ve got to get stops to win.”
Three From three
Arkansas went 3-for-13 behind the three-point line in Thursday’s loss, struggling to knock down long-range shots against the Gamecocks.
Its three-point total was the third-lowest mark this season. Arkansas went 1-for-13 in a win against Alabama on Feb. 5 and 2-for-13 against Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 15.