NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 2015 Southeastern Conference Tournament held true to form as No. 2-seeded Arkansas defeated No. 3-seeded Georgia, 60-49, in Saturday’s semifinals.
The Razorbacks advanced to meet No. 1-seeded Kentucky on Sunday.
Arkansas (26-7) won the game, but it was hardly in its “Fastest 40” fashion of an up-tempo, high-scoring affair.
The Razorbacks were held 19 points below their season scoring average.
“It was an offensive struggle to score the ball,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “It felt like we were playing on empty. You saw a team that was struggling, but the constant denominator was our defense.
“Offense comes and goes; you win championships with defense.”
In fact, the 60 points was the lowest total in an Arkansas win all season.
“It was a hard fought game, but quite frankly an ugly game,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “It’s hard for teams to play late-night games and then be expected to come back the next day, and play pretty basketball. Our rhythm was really off today.”
Most telling of all was that Bobby Portis, the SEC player of the year, was held scoreless until 15:06 remained in the game. He finished with four points, hitting only 1-of-14 shots from the field goals and 2-of-3 free throws.
“Bobby Portis is the best player in our league,” Fox said. “I voted for him. We always try our best to take the best player away and today we did that. But he’s a hard guy to guard.”
Anderson was quick to defend his big man.
“He’s human, that’s what I say about that,” Anderson said. “But notice that he impacted the game in other ways. He had 12 rebounds.”
Junior guard Michael Qualls picked up the slack with 15 points, despite hitting only 5-of-13 shots. Junior guard Anthlon Bell added 10 points.
Georgia (21-11) got 13 points each from senior forward Marcus Thornton and junior forward Cameron Forte. Senior guard Taylor Echols added 10 points.
The Bulldogs were without second leading scorer Kenny Gaines.
“I knew this morning he would not play,” Fox said. “But Kenny would have played if this had been the NCAA Tournament. In that situation, we would have to drag him off the court. He’s a great competitor.”
Georgia shot only 33 percent, 16-of-49, and had 12 turnovers. Arkansas made 37 percent, 22-of-59, and committed 11 turnovers.
Portis’ only basket, however, came during a run that saw Arkansas move to a 44-25 lead, forcing a Georgia timeout with 13:03 left. The Razorbacks had outscored Georgia, 19-8.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Georgia senior guard Taylor Echols trimmed the lead to 44-31 with 11:39 to go, but Arkansas pushed the lead back to 53-38 with 6:41 remaining.
Georgia made one last late charge, trimming a 16-point deficit to 56-47 with barely under four minutes to go, but Arkansas managed to push back and hang on.
Arkansas might have entered the game as one of the highest scoring teams in the nation — 10th at 79.1 points per game — but the battle with Georgia proved to be a slugfest over the first 20 minutes.
The Razorbacks led, 25-17, at intermission.
The game was marred by significant scoring droughts during the first half. No points were scored by either team during stretches of 2:27, 2:41 and 2:26.
As a result, the game was tied, 12-12, with 5:42 left before intermission.
Arkansas made only 33 percent of its shots, 10-of-30, while Georgia was even worse at 28 percent, 7-of-25. The teams combined to make 1-of-9 three-point baskets.
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Georgia had four assists and seven turnovers, Arkansas checked in at two assists and six turnovers.
The good news for Arkansas was that eight players scored in the first half, led by Qualls with six and Babb with five. The bad news was that Portis, the SEC player of the year, missed all six shots and did not score in the first half.
Georgia got 11 of its 17 points from Forte. Beyond that, three other players scored only two points each.
Georgia must wait to learn if it will be one of the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament.
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