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.