Hogs hope hoops not over yet

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, March 16, 2019
Mason Jones (13) and Jalen Harris, Arkansas guards, react in the second half vs Florida Thursday, March 14, 2019, during the second round game in the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Mason Jones (13) and Jalen Harris, Arkansas guards, react in the second half vs Florida Thursday, March 14, 2019, during the second round game in the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Arkansas Razorbacks are hoping a 66-50 loss to Florida on Thursday in the SEC Tournament wasn’t their last game this season.

Florida ended any hopes the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team (17-15) had of making the NCAA Tournament — the Razorbacks needed to win the SEC Tournament to gain the conference’s automatic bid — but Coach Mike Anderson and his players are holding out hope they’ll be in the NIT.

Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek confirmed the UA has submitted a bid to host NIT games.

“I think for a young basketball team, I welcome the opportunity for them to continue to play,” Anderson said. “As I told them, you may have some more basketball, but we’ve got to see a better performance than what we saw [against Florida].

“They hopefully get a chance to continue to play. They only can get better.”

Daniel Gafford, the Razorbacks’ sophomore All-SEC forward who is projected to be a first-round NBA Draft pick, said he’s not ready for this season to be over.

“At this point, [to play] another basketball game, we’d be grateful,” Gafford said. “We don’t want our season to end this short.”

One website that projects NIT brackets had Arkansas in the 32-team field prior to the Florida loss.Midmajormadness.com projects the Razorbacks as a No. 6 seed.

But teams from major conferences such as Arkansas could see their NIT opportunities affected because nine No. 1 seeds in mid-major conferences already have lost in their tournaments. Mid-major regular-season championship teams that don’t earn automatic NCAA Tournament bids or receive at-large bids are guaranteed spots in the NIT.

The Razorbacks don’t have any seniors this season, and among the nine players in their regular rotation are six newcomers.

“We’d embrace it,” Arkansas sophomore guard Mason Jones said of a possible NIT bid. “We still want to play and we still want to win. We’d like to keep going to practice and keep playing and keep getting better.”

The NIT field will be announced at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.

The Razorbacks, who were No. 66 in the NCAA Net rankings on Friday afternoon, beat SEC regular-season champion LSU 90-89 on the road. They won at home against Ole Miss — which is projected to be in the NCAA Tournament — and also beat bubble team Indiana.

“Most definitely,” Arkansas freshman guard Isaiah Joe said when asked whether he believes the Razorbacks deserve an NIT bid. “We’ve lost some tough games, but we’ve also won some big games.

“If we were to get a shot to play in the NIT, I think we could make a good run.”

Joe said while the Razorbacks wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament, they would welcome the opportunity to play in the NIT, especially after their disappointing showing against Florida.

“Any basketball at this point would be good,” Joe said. “Nobody wants their season to end like this. Knowing we’d be able to play another game would help us.”

Arkansas won its final three regular-season games against Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt and against Alabama.

“Coming into the game we had a lot of confidence,” Joe said. “But we just kind of went back to our old ways [on Thursday] when we went on those losing streaks.

“We weren’t rebounding, we weren’t getting stops, we weren’t playing at a fast tempo, and it showed in this game. If we were able to do what we do best and play our game, it would have helped a lot.”

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