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Razorbacks Avoid Epic Meltdown Against Vanderbilt

Khalif Battle takes over late in overtime after nearly collapsing in opening round of SEC Tournament
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Arkansas nearly threw away a second-half lead in a thrilling 90-85 overtime win over Vanderbilt in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. 

The seesaw game between Arkansas and Vanderbilt was nip and tuck all night long, but the Razorbacks looked to have the game in hand up eight with two minutes left to play. However, an epic meltdown was in store for the Hog fans who made the trip to Nashville. Ezra Manjon took over the game with three late field goals. With the Razorbacks up two with 13 seconds left, Khalif Battle was unable to successfully inbound the ball from under the basket as Manjon knocked down a buzzer-beater off a steal on an inbound.

After giving up the opening two points, the Razorbacks went back to Battle one more time. The Temple transfer scored seven of his team-high 24 points in overtime including a driving layup with 1:39 left leading to a seven-point gap. 

The two teams started with a torrid pace, racing up and down the floor. Both teams were marred by early turnovers, combining for nine in the first nine minutes. The teams were deadlocked at 16 with 10:46 left. 

Teams went back and forth, trading baskets. Ven-Allen Lubin, who scored 19 points in the first matchup, canned a three as part of a 10-0 burst that ballooned Vanderbilt's lead to 37-25. Malik Presley capped off the spurt with an emphatic dunk.

Arkansas only scored two points in the final 5:48 of the half as Manjon hit an elbow fadeaway at the buzzer for a fitting end to the half as the Commodores took a 41-27 lead to the break.

With their back against the wall, threes on back-to-back possessions from Battle and Trevon Brazile gave the Razorbacks life. Tramon Mark, who had been held scoreless in the first half, exploded for a quick 11 points as part of an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 51-44.

Mark was subsequently fouled on a three and knocked down all of the free throws to suddenly make it a one-possession game, 53-50. A three from Tasos Kamateros temporarily stemmed the tide, but back-to-back threes from Brazile and Davonte "Devo" Davis cut the lead to two. Khalif Battle sunk a pair of free throws which tied the game at 58 with 8:41 left. 

Mark sunk a running three from the left wing and got fouled as well. The Razorbacks took their first lead since the 8:35 mark of the first half. The two teams' main scorers took over late in the game, trading layups and baskets inside, but key live ball turnovers hurt the Commodores late in the game. Like so many other times this season, the Hogs used their advantage at the charity stripe to stretch out the lead. Arkansas shot 23-for-26 from the free throw line compared to Vanderbilt's 13-for-21. Six straight free throws for the Razorbacks stretched the lead to eight before Arkansas nearly threw the game away at the end of regulation.

Arkansas plays Thursday 2:30 p.m. against No. 5 seed South Carolina in the second round of the SEC Tournament. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network and fuboTV.

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