Arkansas 72, Vanderbilt 71

Friday, March 9th 2007, 7:45 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Gary Ervin set a career scoring high in a win over Vanderbilt last week, but he enjoyed a more memorable highlight while scoring only 6-points Friday.

Ervin sank the go-ahead jump shot with 11 seconds left to lift Arkansas to a 72-71 win over Vanderbilt and send the Razorbacks to the semifinals of the SEC tournament for the first time since 2001.

Ervin, a junior guard from Brooklyn, N.Y., had only one field goal in the game before launching the decisive jump shot.

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.

``We were trying to get the ball down low and get an easy basket or get to the free-throw line,'' Ervin said.

Shan Foster missed a 3-pointer for Vanderbilt with 6-seconds left and then pulled his jersey over his head in dejection when Ervin grabbed the rebound, dribbled toward midcourt and then threw the ball high in the air.

``They made one more play than we did,'' said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings.

``We would take that same look again if the game were on the line and be pretty sure Shan would make it.''

Arkansas (20-12) will play Mississippi State in a semifinal on Saturday.

The win gave coach Stan Heath's Razorbacks back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 1998-99. More importantly, it kept alive the team's NCAA tournament hopes, a fact that could be important to Heath's job status.

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.

Ervin set a career high with 21 points as Arkansas won 82-67 at Vanderbilt last Saturday. Ervin, who averages 10.1 points per game, also had 20 points in a 67-58 win over Mississippi State on Feb. 28 and was named SEC player of the week following his two big games.

Patrick Beverley led Arkansas 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, with a No. 37 RPI, was No. 19 in the Top 25 before falling out of the poll following the regular-season loss to Arkansas. The Commodores now have to hope another loss to the Razorbacks doesn't hurt their NCAA hopes.

``Today's the first time we've lost two SEC games in a row, and we are the only team in the league that's done that,'' Stallings said.

Vanderbilt led 60-52 with 6:39 left.

``We were down by eight and we stuck together as a team,'' Weems said. ``We didn't fold. ... We all had our hearts in it.''

Said Heath: ``It was an amazing game for us to win after being down by eight and things not looking very good.''

Arkansas, which entered the week with a No. 48 RPI, needed a strong SEC tournament showing to boost its NCAA hopes. It beat South Carolina 82-52 in the first round on Thursday.

``We definitely should be one of those (NCAA) teams,'' Heath said.

``This league is off the charts. It's so talented. It would be a travesty if six teams didn't get a chance to go to the tournament.''

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 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.