Arkansas 72, Vanderbilt 71
ATLANTA (AP)—Gary Ervin sank a jump shot with 11 seconds left to give Arkansas a 72-71 victory over Vanderbilt Friday and send the Razorbacks to the semifinals of the SEC tournament for the first time since 2001.
The win gave Arkansas back-to-back 20-win seasons, improved the Razorbacks’ NCAA tournament hopes and possibly provided job security for coach Stan Heath.
Ervin, who twice set personal scoring highs last week while being named Southeastern Conference player of the week, scored only six points but made the biggest basket of the game with his jumper.
After Ervin gave Arkansas the lead, Shan Foster missed a 3-pointer for Vanderbilt.
After the final buzzer sounded, Ervin was at the bottom of a pile Arkansas players near press row. “That’s big time,” Ervin yelled as he rose to his feet.
Patrick Beverley led Arkansas (20-12) with 18 points. Sonny Weems added 17 and Charles Thomas had 11 with nine rebounds.
Derrick Byars led Vanderbilt (20-11) with 15 points. Foster had 13 and Dan Cage had 12.
Vanderbilt reached 20 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1998-99.
With Arkansas leading 70-69, a miss by Beverley gave Vanderbilt possession with 45 seconds left. Byars missed a 3-point shot. Weems rebounded for Arkansas but turned the ball over, giving the Commodores another chance with 30 seconds left.
This time, Ross Nelter scored an easy layup on the inbounds pass from Alex Gordon, giving Vanderbilt a 71-70 lead with 23 seconds left. Gordon faked his inbounds pass to his left before finding Nelter open near the basket.
Arkansas officials already are preparing a $900,000 contract buyout for Heath if the Razorbacks do not receive an NCAA bid, The Mobile Press Register reported Friday. Heath’s contract runs through 2011.
According to the paper, Arkansas would decline an invitation to the NIT and immediately launch its search for a new coach.
Arkansas led 22-13 before Vanderbilt rallied for a 26-26 tie with 3:52 left in the first half. A 3-pointer by Weems with 45 seconds left in the half gave Arkansas a 33-29 lead at the break.
Arkansas kept the lead until a 3-pointer by Foster tied the game at 48-48 with 12:28 left.
A basket by Darian Townes with 9:54 left gave Arkansas a 52-51 lead. Vanderbilt then scored nine straight points. Jermaine Beal capped the run by hitting a 3-pointer with 6:39 left for a 60-52 lead.
Arkansas answered with a 14-5 run. A three-point play by Beverley with 3:36 left put the Razorbacks ahead, 66-65.