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Nolan-less Arkansas bounced from postseason

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ATLANTA (AP) _ No Nolan, no offense and no more games.

The Arkansas Razorbacks' troubled season ended with a 68-61 loss to Tennessee in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday.

The only certainty in Fayetteville at the moment is that the Razorbacks (14-15) won't make the postseason for the first time since 1985-86 _ Nolan Richardson's initial season as their coach.

The school bought out Richardson's contract last Friday for $3 million after 17 mostly successful years that included a national championship, two Final Fours, 13 NCAA appearances and two trips to the NIT.

Richardson has appealed the decision.

``Never in a million years would I have dreamed that what happened would happen,'' said Mike Anderson, who coached the final two games. ``You've got to pinch yourself and wake yourself up: Did this really happen?''

In other first-round action, No. 8 Florida beat Auburn 81-63, LSU beat Vanderbilt 69-62, and South Carolina beat Mississippi 69-67.

On Friday, the Tigers face No. 17 Georgia, the East's top seed. Tennessee meets regular-season champion and eighth-ranked Alabama, while the Gators play Mississippi State and South Carolina meets No. 12 Kentucky.

In the second half, Arkansas went almost eight minutes without a field goal, squandering a nine-point lead and shooting 25 percent from the floor.

Vincent Yarbrough scored 20 points for Tennessee (15-15), which outscored the Razorbacks 26-11 in the final eight minutes, but needs another win to qualify for the postseason.

The Volunteers are still hoping to land an NIT bid.

The Gators rode the play of stars Brett Nelson and Udonis Haslem into the rematch with Mississippi State, which is trying to reverse a 76-48 loss on Feb. 2.

Haslem had 22 points and 10 rebounds and was perfect on seven field-goal attempts and eight free throws.

Nelson scored 23 points and was 6-of-11 from 3-point range.

The Gators must win four games in four days to take their first SEC tournament title.

``I told the guys, 'You can't win four games unless you win this first one,''' Florida coach Billy Donovan said. ``We didn't play our style of basketball for 40 minutes.''

Matt Bonner had nine points and seven rebounds as the Gators dominated the boards 38-26.

The Gators had trouble separating themselves from Auburn (12-16) until the final eight minutes. Marquis Daniels had 17 of his 23 points in the second half for Auburn.

The Tigers finished their worst season since going 11-17 in 1990-91.

Florida fell from the Top 10 this week for the first time all season, thanks to a 2-3 finish.

Now, the Gators have to win three more games to claim the tournament title, a feat only Arkansas in 2000 managed in the last decade.

``I'm ready to play right now,'' Nelson said.

It was a clear mismatch offensively, with the league's top offense at times dominating the lowest-scoring team.

Still, Auburn trailed only 32-30 at halftime before Florida scored the first 10 points of the second half.

The Tigers closed within eight several times, the last on Daniels' layup with 7:30 left that made it 57-49.

LSU, meanwhile, continued to make a case for postseason play with its third straight win and fifth in seven games.

Antonio Hudson scored a career-high 24 points, including 15 in the second half for the Tigers (17-13).

``To win five of seven speaks volumes about what flows through our team,'' coach John Brady said.

Jermaine Williams added 12 points and five steals as LSU scored 28 points off 23 turnovers. Torris Bright had 11 points and four steals.

The Commodores (16-14) are hoping for an NIT bid despite winning just three of their final 11 games.

Chuck Moore had 21 points and three 3-pointers, but didn't make a field goal in the final 19 minutes. Matt Freije picked up the slack, scoring 15 of his 18 points after halftime.

In the final game, South Carolina continued to nurse NCAA tournament hopes by holding on for a win over the Rebels, considered likely tournament picks.

The Gamecocks' prize: a third crack at Kentucky, which won the previous two meetings.

Rolando Howell banked in a short shot with 16.9 seconds left for a rare close win.

``We've not been able to finish a close game there at the end,'' coach Dave Odom said

Tony Kitchings scored 16 points and Carlos Powell added 14 to lead the Gamecocks, who stayed alive for an NCAA bid and strengthened their NIT credentials.

Mississippi (20-10), led by David Sanders with 26 points, is hoping it did enough in the regular season to make the NCAA field.

``I'm confident, but you never know,'' coach Rod Barnes said. ``If you're the sixth-best team in the best league in the country, you think you ought to be in there.''

Sanders converted a three-point play with 37.5 seconds left, pulling Ole Miss into a 67-67 tie after the Rebels trailed much of the game.

At the other end, Howell shook loose from his defender, Justin Reed, and laid in the winning basket while Reed tumbled to the floor.

Aaron Harper's 3-pointer for the victory rimmed out.
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