ST. LOUIS Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford transformed himself from a below-average 3-pointer shooter a year ago to one of the best in the country from deep this season.
Barford pushed his newfound shooting ability to its limits on Thursday night, and he responded when the Razorbacks needed him the most in a 69-64 win over South Carolina in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The senior, a first-team All-SEC selection, scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half to help sixth-seeded Arkansas (22-10) hold off a furious late charge from the Gamecocks. It wasn't just the number of points Barford scored that was so impressive, but rather when — and how — he scored them.
In particular, with Arkansas' earlier 15-point lead having dwindled to two with just over three minutes remaining, Barford connected on a high-arcing 25-foot 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down.
The shot was part of five straight points for the 6-foot-3 playmaker, who has improved from a 26.6 percent 3-pointer shooter a year ago to making 43.4 percent of his shots from deep this season — second in the SEC.
"I shoot every day, but I guess it was kind of like a H-O-R-S-E shot," Barford said. "I knew it was good when it left my hands."
The win is the seventh in the last nine games for the Razorbacks, who advance to face No. 3 seed Florida on Friday night.
Chris Silva had 15 points and 11 rebounds to lead the No. 11 seed Gamecocks (17-16), who advanced to the second round with a win over Mississippi on Wednesday night.
Maik Kotsar also scored 15 points and Frank Booker added 11 for South Carolina, which now must wait to see if its late-season recovery following a six-game losing streak was enough to earn a postseason berth.
"We fit the criteria, but it's not my decision," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "If the NIT invites us and we sign the paperwork, we'll go. Outside of that, we'll stay home."
Arkansas led 36-28 at halftime thanks to its performance at the free throw line, where it hit 14 of 15 in the half. The Razorbacks entered the game 12th in the SEC in free-throw percentage (67 percent), but they continued to shoot the ball well from the line in the second half — finishing 23 of 26 (88.5 percent) overall in the win. Daryl Macon scored 12 points and hit 8 of 8 free throws for the Razorbacks, including two in the final minute that helped seal the win. "We made free throws," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "We've been shooting not very good this year, but when it counted we were pretty good tonight."
South Carolina: The loss puts an end to any hopes South Carolina had of returning to the NCAA Tournament, where it reached the school's first Final Four a year ago. After trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, the Gamecocks rallied and closed Arkansas' lead to two points several times in the closing minutes. However, they were unable to overcome a 38.3-percent (23 of 60) effort from the field — similar to the 41.2 percent South Carolina shot in a loss at Arkansas on Feb. 7 .
Arkansas: Sophomore Adrio Bailey started at power forward on Thursday night for Arkansas in place of Dustin Thomas, who was kicked off the team earlier this week for violating team rules. The 6-foot-7 Bailey was undersized against South Carolina's frontcourt for much of the night, but he scored nine points and had three steals and two blocks in 24 minutes — including a powerful dunk early in the second half. "I thought (Bailey) played like a warrior, and that's what we've been looking for," Anderson said.
The Gamecocks wait on their postseason fate.
Arkansas faces Florida in the quarterfinals on Friday night.
Arkansas 69, South Carolina 64 - Final
Jaylen Barford scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half to lead the Razorbacks to win No. 22 of year. Arkansas advances to face Florida tomorrow night at approximately 8:30 p.m.
Daryl Macon added 12 points despite a 2 of 10 night from the floor, and Darious Hall and Adrio Bailey chipped in nine big points apiece. Maik Kotsar and Chris Silva each scored 15 for the Gamecocks.
Arkansas' defense held South Carolina to 1 of 10 from the floor over the final 6:37 of the game.
Arkansas 61, South Carolina 57 - 3:59 left
Adrio Bailey knocked down a free throw line jumper, pushing him to nine points. It's the most he's scored in a game since adding 10 against Mississippi State on Jan. 2. He's been great tonight. He's going to be the guys at the 4 going forward you would think.
South Carolina does not have a make from the floor in more than three minutes. This is going to be a big defensive stretch for the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks are not going to go down easily.
Arkansas 56, South Carolina 53 - 7:36 left
The Gamecocks have turned the ball over 17 times tonight but finds itself within a score of tying the game behind an 11-2 run.
Arkansas' bench, aside from Darious Hall, has not provided a whole lot offensively, but Adrio Bailey is a +17 tonight (6 points, 4 rebounds). That's what Arkansas needed tonight from him.
Arkansas 52, South Carolina 39 - 11:42 left
The Gamecocks battled back to within 10 points, but Jaylen Barford knocked down a filthy stepback 3 from the left wing. He's got eight in the second half and 12 for the game. He's cooking.
Trey Thompson continues to impress as a passing big. He just hit Darious Hall for a bucket after a nice cut to the rim. Good finish from Hall as well. He has nine for the game.
Arkansas 47, South Carolina 32 - 15:59 left
Jaylen Barford has five points early in the second half after a quiet first half. Daniel Gafford also has a pair of scores since the break and Adrio Bailey has a bucket.
Bailey has been really solid tonight. He's a guy I figured would step up in place of Dustin Thomas. Arkansas has five guys with 6+ points. Again, contributions all around will be huge for Arkansas in postseason play.
This is Arkansas' largest lead of the night.
Arkansas 36, South Carolina 28 - Half
Daryl Macon leads all scorers with eight points and Darious Hall has seven off the bench. The Razorbacks ended the first half on a 10-2 run after the Gamecocks knotted the game at 26 at the under 4 timeout.
Adrio Bailey had a solid half, scoring four points from the free throw line and grabbing three rebounds. Six Razorbacks have at least four points, and that balance has been nice considering Jaylen Barford was pretty quiet in the first half.
Justin Minaya and Maik Kotsar have six points to lead South Carolina. The Gamecocks shot just 36.7 percent from the floor and 2 of 7 at the line. Frank Martin was assessed a technical foul toward the end of the half and Daryl Macon knocked down the subsequent free throws.
Arkansas 26, South Carolina 26 - 3:59 left first half
The Gamecocks have hit three 3s in less than a minute and a half to cut a seven-point deficit into a tie game approaching halftime. Justin Minaya knocked down his second of the night and Felipe Haase buried one, forcing Mike Anderson to call for time.
Arkansas 18, South Carolina 15 - 7:55 left first half
Daniel Gafford just picked up his second foul attempting to draw a charge on Chris Silva. Gafford finished strong at the rim on the other end on the previous possession for his first bucket of the game. He'll probably sit the remainder of the half.
Darious Hall has five points for Arkansas off the bench and has been a nice surprise on the offensive end. He's knocked down a a 3 and a midrange jumper. Like his energy, as usual. His five points lead all scorers.
Arkansas 14, South Carolina 9 - 11:21 left first half
C.J. Jones and Darious Hall knocked down 3s since the last media timeout. Daryl Macon leads Arkansas with four points.
South Carolina is shooting just 4 of 13 through the first 8+ minutes. Justin Minaya knocked down a 3 of his own, continuing his hot streak from beyond the arc.
Arkansas 6, South Carolina 4 - 15:30 left first half
Pretty solid start for the Razorbacks. Daryl Macon has shown great energy and has four of the Hogs' six points to go with a pair of rebounds. Jaylen Barford has the other bucket on a leaner in the lane.
Anton Beard has two assists and could have had another to Adrio Bailey, but opted to pull up from inside the free throw line on the break.
South Carolina has turned the ball over four times already. The Gamecocks' go-to guy Chris Silva has two of the turnovers as Arkansas has thrown double team pressure his way on the catch.
Arkansas will start Anton Beard, Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon, Adrio Bailey and Daniel Gafford. Bailey is making his 13th start of the season and his first since Arkansas hosted the Gamecocks on Feb. 6.
South Carolina is running with Hassani Gravett, Justin Minaya, Maik Kotsar, Evan Hinson and Chris Silva.
In-game updates by Scottie Bordelon of WholeHogSports