Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in journalism.
Blown leads hurt Hogs' NCAA hopes
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson reacts to a referee's call during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE If Arkansas doesn't make the NCAA Tournament as expected Sunday night, the Razorbacks will have a collection of collapses late in games to look back on with thoughts of what-if.
Arkansas has blown leads in the final four minutes of regulation six times this season, including Thursday to South Carolina at the SEC Tournament. The Razorbacks led the Gamecocks 69-66 with 2:08 remaining but didn't score again.
South Carolina outscored Arkansas 5-0 to close the game with all of its points coming at the free throw line. The Gamecocks didn't make a basket after 3:55 remaining.
It was a familiar story for Arkansas. There are five other instances in which the Razorbacks let games slip away.
Florida, Jan. 11 - Arkansas led the Gators 64-57 with less than five minutes left in regulation, but Florida closed on a 9-2 run. Alandise Harris missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with 17 seconds left and Scottie Wilbekin tied the game for Florida with 2 seconds remaining in regulation. Wilbekin scored nine points in overtime as the Gators won 84-82.
Georgia, Jan. 18 - The Razorbacks led 48-43 with less than five minutes remaining, but made only one field goal in the final seven minutes of regulation. The Bulldogs scored 22 points on 24 offensive rebounds and pulled away in overtime for a 66-61 win.
Tennessee, Jan. 22 - Arkansas led by as many as eight points in the second half but was outscored 15-6 in the final four minutes on the road. Ky Madden's layup with 49 seconds left snapped a nearly five-minute stretch without a field goal.
Missouri, Jan. 28 - Michael Qualls' 3-pointer gave the Razorbacks the lead with 3:27 remaining and Ky Madden tied the game with a free throw with 1:48 to play, but Missouri outscored Arkansas 11-7 in the final 1:07 to win 75-71 in Fayetteville.
Missouri, Feb. 13 - In another close game, Arkansas overcame a 10-point deficit to take the lead on a Mardracus Wade layup with 1:20 remaining. The Razorbacks had a chance to increase the lead but a turnover led to Jabari Brown's go-ahead jumper with 12 seconds left. Ky Madden missed a driving layup in the final seconds for the Razorbacks.
To Arkansas' credit, the team also closed out its share of games.
Michael Qualls had last-second shots to beat Kentucky at home and Vanderbilt on the road. The Razorbacks held off late rallies in wins at Mississippi State and home against Georgia, and of course the one to beat Kentucky in overtime at Rupp Arena two weeks ago.
But the close losses will likely eat at Arkansas for an entire off-season. Florida is the nation's top team, while Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri are still jockeying for NCAA Tournament berths.
A win for the Razorbacks in any of those close losses early in the season could have provided more cushion for their two bad losses to close.