Nashville, Tenn. — No. 2 seed Texas A&M (23-8, 15-3 SEC) roared back from a 13-point halftime deficit to defeat No. 10 seed Arkansas, 67-61, in the quarterfinals of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament on Friday at Bridgestone Arena.
Henry Coleman III only had four points in the first half, but he ignited the Aggies’ second-half comeback with a quick eight points — and ended up totaling 16 along with 11 rebounds. Wade Taylor IV had a hot second half as well and finished the game with 18 points. Dexter Dennis and Tyrece Radford added 11 points apiece.
The Aggies completed their biggest comeback of the season after trailing 38-25 at the half.
The Razorbacks came out on top in the first meeting of the season with an 81-70 victory, but the Aggies evened the series at home with a 62-56 win prior to Friday night’s rubber match.
As expected, the contest started off chippy as both teams played full throttle with the goal of breaking the series tie and moving on in the tournament. Nick Smith Jr. got Arkansas off to a blazing start with consecutive 3-pointers in the opening minutes. Radford hit back-to-back deuces to help tie it at 6-6 with 15:37 remaining in the first period.
Defense was the name of the game early for Arkansas as it racked up three steals and three blocks in the initial seven minutes. Davonte Davis kept the Hogs’ hot shooting going with a deep ball at 10:35 to extend the lead to 18-10 and then Makhel Mitchell bullied his way into the paint on the ensuing play to make it 20-10.
The Razorbacks’ smothering defense continued as they had six blocks and four steals with 6:12 remaining in the first half – holding Texas A&M to just 12 points. Coleman III followed by getting his first basket and Dexter Dennis then hit a 3-pointer, but the Razorbacks applied pressure and kept their lead at 27-17 following Anthony Black’s deep ball with 4:46 remaining in the half.
Texas A&M led Division I in free throws per game (19.4) and free throws attempted per game (25.4) entering the contest and failed to have an attempt until 2:24 was left in the half. Radford was fouled and hit a pair from the line to narrow the Arkansas lead to 29-23.
Black’s block party (four total) ignited the Razorbacks in the closing minutes of the first half and Jordan Walsh’s buzzer-beating 3-ball off the glass got fans out of their seats. Arkansas totaled nine blocks (season-high for a game this year) and five steals in the first half alone to create their healthy 38-25 lead.
It wouldn’t be enough to hold off the Aggies.
Texas A&M dusted off the first half and came back into the second period reenergized by Coleman III, who scored eight quick points and got his team on an 11-4 run before Arkansas called a timeout. Coleman III kept his foot on the gas by scoring his 15th point with 12:39 remaining, and Taylor IV’s layup brought the Aggies within two points, 44-42, at the 12:07 mark.
Arkansas quickly called a timeout, and it became a tense, back-and-forth ballgame the rest of the way.
Texas A&M kept its foot on the pedal and Dennis’ reverse layup at 10:26 gave his team the lead, 46-45. Black followed it up with a layup for Arkansas to start back-and-forth exchanges. Both teams kept going shot-for-shot and Davis’ steal and layup with 7:56 remaining lit the crowd up once again.
Dennis caught his defender with a quick hesitation and drilled a midrange jumper at the 6:51 mark to put the Aggies up 55-51 and create a tiny bit of separation. Taylor IV had two crucial steals down the stretch, one of them resulting in an easy coast-to-coast layup that put Texas A&M up 58-53 with 3:48 remaining.
Taylor IV and Coleman III were key as the final three minutes winded down — controlling the tempo and keeping the Razorbacks at bay. Taylor IV scored a clutch two-pointer and then Solomon Washington slammed home an alley-oop that erupted the arena with :46 remaining — giving Texas A&M a 65-57 lead.
Arkansas didn’t go without a fight, but time wasn’t on its side as the Aggies ran the clock out and walked away victorious in the chippy matchup.
Texas A&M will face the winner of 3-seed Kentucky or 6-seed Vanderbilt in the semifinals of the tournament on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET — the game will be aired on ESPN.
Arkansas (20-12, 8-10 SEC) is eliminated from the tournament and awaits word on when and where it is likely to play in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
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