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Razorbacks ride Ervin to SEC finals
Arkansas takes control from Miss. State in 2nd half

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

ATLANTA — Mississippi State’s band booed Arkansas’ Gary Ervin nearly every time he touched the basketball early in the two team’s SEC tournament semifinal.

Ervin, who became a Razorback by way of transferring from Mississippi State, apparently wasn’t bothered much by the Bulldogs’ backers vitriol Saturday.

He scored 15 points, including nine in a four-minute second-half stretch when Arkansas took over the game, and the Razorbacks moved into Sunday’s finals with a 81-72 win in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

“Coach told us in a timeout that we just need to go on a run and start with defense,” said Ervin, who had zero and 20 points in the Razorbacks regular-season games against Mississippi State (18-13).

“We got stops and easy baskets in transition. Me scoring nine points out of 11, that wasn’t real big for me. We just wanted to win as a team.”

Bracket observers said Arkansas (21-12) all but needed to win the SEC tournament to reach the NCAAs. Head coach Stan Heath isn’t much concerned with that theory anymore.

“It would be a huge feather for us to win an SEC, but in my opinion, it’s really a no-brainer,” Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. “Removed any doubt, any ifs that we belong in that field.”

Now the Razorbacks, winners of five straight, are one win away from doing just that, and will face Florida at noon Sunday on WHNT-19 for the SEC’s automatic berth.

Not since 2000 when Arkansas stormed to four straight wins, including a 75-67 SEC tournament final victory over Auburn, has a team won four straight games in the conference’s postseason event.

Of any team to play in Atlanta this week, Arkansas may be the best suited to turn the trick. The Razorbacks played three games in four days in November, winning all three on their way to the Old Spice Classic championship.

“We came out with the confidence, and we packed for four days and we’re playing four games,” Ervin said. “That’s what we’re going out to go out and do.”

Mississippi State now has an anxious wait for a possible NCAA berth Sunday. Even if one doesn’t come, a NIT bid appears all but assured.

“I think let’s be realistic,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “The winner of this game was going to get in. Arkansas deserves the chance now to get into the NCAA tournament.”

Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State’s hero in Friday’s win over Kentucky, wasn’t nearly as threatening Saturday against Arkansas. Gordon finished with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting a day after blistering Kentucky for 26 points.

Fatigue may have played a part. He played 42 minutes in Mississippi State’s 84-82 overtime win over the Wildcats on Friday.

Still, on Saturday, Mississippi State led by one at halftime.

Arkansas made up that deficit in the first 30 seconds of the second half. The Razorbacks didn’t pull back, and finished with 10 more second-half shots and 10 more second-half points largely due to 10 offensive rebounds in the half.

Arkansas outrebounded Mississippi State 45-39 on the day, and finished with an astounding 42-26 advantage in points in the lane.

Charles Thomas played a large role there. He finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds to pace the Razorbacks.

Nevertheless, Ervin is the Razorback who took over when Arkansas needed someone to take over.

Mississippi State’s Ben Hansbrough’s layup cut Arkansas’ lead to 53-48 with 12:43 to play. Ervin came right back down the court and matched the layup.

Hansbrough missed a 3-pointer on the other end, and Ervin sank another layup.

Suddenly a five-point Arkansas lead grew to nine. Ervin wasn’t done.

After trading baskets, Ervin hit a jumper, giving Arkansas a 61-50 lead.

The Bulldogs never got closer than eight the rest of the game.

“He jumped up and made some shots in the second half,” Stansbury said. “Gary’s a good little player.”

Sonny Weems also had 18 points for Arkansas.

Hansbrough’s 12 points led Mississippi State. Dietric Slater added 11, and Reginald Delk had 10.

SEC tournament bracket

Thursday’s first round

  • Kentucky 79, Alabama 67

  • Arkansas 82, South
    Carolina 52

  • Georgia 80, Auburn 65

  • LSU 76, Tennessee 67, OT

    Friday’s second round

    n Mississippi State 84,
    Kentucky 82 (OT)

  • Arkansas 72, Vanderbilt
    71

  • Florida 74, Georgia 57

  • Ole Miss 80, LSU 60

    Saturday’s semifinals

    n Arkansas 81, Mississippi State 72

  • Florida 80, Ole Miss 59

    Sunday’s finals

    n Arkansas vs. Florida, noon (WHNT-19)

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