ATLANTA -- Nine out of 10 times, Bobby Portis makes that shot.
He’s in front of the basket, he goes up and finishes.
But with a game -- and a season -- on the line, one of the Razorbacks’ top players adjusted too much. Instead of taking a pass and going right to the basket for an almost certain bucket with six seconds remaining and his team down one, Portis tried to draw a foul by jumping into his defender. When he shot, his arm went left, causing the ball to clank off the rim inside the Georgia Dome.
The ball almost immediately fell into South Carolina forward Michael Carrera’s hands before he was fouled with 2.9 seconds left. After a last-ditch launch failed to fall for the Razorbacks, Portis was left grimacing and banging his hands together as he slinked off the court to the tune of a devastating 71-69 loss to the SEC tournament’s No. 13 seed.
“That’s one of my moves, really -- two dribbles to the middle and then right hand jump hook off my left shoulder,” said a visibly heartbroken Portis. “I just missed it. It’s one of those days.”
It definitely was for a team that was so hot during the last month of the season, yet so not in its final two games. After winning six straight and seven of their last eight, the Razorbacks will be left wondering how in the world they almost certainly played their way out of the NCAA tournament.
"We had opportunities," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "... we had a lot of mental mistakes going down the stretch.
"We're in the hunt for something; I don't know what."
After losing to a South Carolina team that is now 14-19 (5-13, SEC) and basically playing for fun at this point, the Hogs are now 21-11 (10-8) and are staring at a bid to the NIT. A week ago, this team beat Ole Miss by 30 and was pushing itself off the bubble and into the field of 68.
Then, Arkansas was squashed by hapless Alabama 83-58 to close the regular season. That loss stung and complicated its NCAA tournament dreams before Thursday crushed them. This team probably had to beat Tennessee Friday to make it into the tournament, so this loss, in which the Hogs were matched toe-to-toe for 40 minutes against a team that lost nine of its first 10 SEC games, is very costly.
The Arkansas team that beat a ranked Kentucky team twice in overtime and blew out a hot Georgia team late in the year wasn’t tough enough Thursday. It had jitters and didn’t challenge the boards, getting out-rebounded 40-24. Its benched softened, getting outscored 34-22. The Hogs were lackadaisical and careless with the ball. Anderson said they had unnecessary fouls, which helped the Gamecocks attempt 41 free throws.
“South Carolina came out there prepared for everything that we were doing,” said Portis, who finished with 11 points and just three rebounds. “They attacked us; we didn’t attack them. We didn’t play Arkansas basketball today.
“They were attacking the rim and we weren’t. We were settling for jumpers and stuff like that.”
For some reason, the energy needed for a run to an NCAA bid just wasn’t there, and now the Hogs will be nervously awaiting what should be an appropriately disappointing fate.
“We saw toward the beginning of the game when they were down, their enthusiasm started to slow down a little bit,” South Carolina guard Brenton Williams said.
Arkansas slowed down, while South Carolina sped up. This unlikely crew got a fun trip to the big city but is taking advantage of it.
So while Arkansas sits, South Carolina hopes its magical run through Atlanta continues. After a 74-56 win over Auburn in the first round of the tournament, the Gamecocks now face fourth-seeded Tennessee in the quarterfinals on Friday with the hopes of keeping this momentum churning.
“I wouldn’t say we’re a scary team, but we’re definitely motivated and we’re ready to play whoever’s next on the schedule,” Williams said.