ATLANTA — Arkansas sure picked a bad time to have a losing streak.
Optimistic about landing an NCAA bid just a week ago, the Razorbacks might have scuttled their chances with a loss to South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament Thursday. Arkansas got beaten up on the boards and missed three shots in the final 33 seconds, losing to the Gamecocks 71-69.
"In this setting, you've got to be on point," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "We had some mishaps down the stretch. If you're going to be a good team at this time of year, you've got to eliminate those plays."
Sindarius Thornwell scored 17 points to lead the Gamecocks, who won their second straight game at the Georgia Dome after going 12-19 during the regular season.
"Survive and advance," coach Frank Martin said. "That's all you're geared up to do this time of year."
The Gamecocks (14-19), whose only hope of making the NCAAs is to win it all in Atlanta, advanced to the quarterfinals Friday against Tennessee. Arkansas (21-11) will likely have to settle for an NIT berth.
"I'm hoping for the NCAAs," said Coty Clark, who led the Razorbacks with 13 points. "But right now, I don't know."
Arkansas appeared to be closing in on an NCAA bid when it won six in a row beginning in mid-February. But the Razorbacks turned in perhaps their worst performance in the regular-season finale, a 25-point blowout by Alabama, and a one-and-done at the SEC tournament likely finished off their hopes.
The players didn't hide their anguish when the horn sounded.
Rashad Madden hustled off the court, Bobby Portis grimaced at all the opportunities lost and Anthlon Bell walked slowly along the sideline with both hands locked on top of his head.
"Like all teams, we want to play in the NCAA," Anderson said. "I think the guys improved during the year. They played well in the conference. It wasn't for a lack of effort."
After South Carolina went ahead 70-69 on Brenton Williams' free throw with 53 seconds remaining, Arkansas squandered two prime chances to reclaim the lead. Madden missed a floating jumper with 33 seconds left, and Portis' jump hook from in close rolled off the iron with 3 seconds to play.
"I got a good look," Portis said. "I shot it too hard."
The Gamecocks missed three of their last four free throws, giving Arkansas one more opportunity. It wasn't nearly as good as the previous two. Madden's desperation heave from just inside the half-court line bounced off the back of the rim.
Portis and Madden had 11 points each, and Michael Qualls chipped in with 10. But the Razorbacks picked the worst possible time to lose back-to-back games for the first time in nearly six weeks, burned by defensive breakdowns in the closing minutes and not getting their usual boost from the bench. In fact, South Carolina's reserves outscored Arkansas' backups 34-22.
"I thought we had South Carolina. They were a little tired," Anderson said. "But we had some screwups on defense. They got some uncontested layups."
The game was close throughout, the margin never more than six points and within four points throughout the second half.
"Every time it seemed like we had an 'uh-oh' moment, somebody stepped up and made a play," Martin said.
Laimonas Chatkevicius had 16 points and seven rebounds for South Carolina. Duane Noce added 11 points, Williams had 10 and Mindaugas Kacinas was a force in the lane with 10 rebounds. Michael Carrera also had seven rebounds; no Arkansas player had more than five.
The Gamecocks finished with a 40-24 rebounding edge.
South Carolina was coming off a dominating win against Auburn in the opening round of the tournament; the Tigers fired coach Tony Barbee before the team even left Atlanta.
The undermanned Gamecocks also knocked off Kentucky late in the regular season and played through a one-game suspension for Martin after he berated one of his players with an obscenity-filled tirade.
Martin barely said a word Thursday, watching his team control the lane and do a mostly solid job of dealing with Arkansas' pressing, trapping defense. The Gamecocks did have 15 turnovers, but they weren't shy about taking it to the hoop, drawing 28 fouls and hitting 30 of 41 at the line.
That was essentially the difference. Arkansas made 20 of 26 free throws.