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March 8, 2007

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ATLANTA (AP) -Arkansas kept alive its hopes for making a second straight visit to the NCAA tournament while ending South Carolina’s hopes for a third straight NIT title.

Arkansas broke open a close game with a 27-9 run in the second half to beat South Carolina 82-52 in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament on Thursday.

Arkansas (19-12) may need another SEC tournament win over Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals Friday to remain on the NCAA tournament bubble. The Razorbacks advanced to the tournament for the first time in five years last season.

Gary Ervin and Darian Townes each scored 16 points for Arkansas. Patrick Beverley, the SEC’s Newcomer of the Year, had 11 points and Sonny Weems added 10.

The Razorbacks committed only four turnovers in the game.

Arkansas led 49-40 before pulling away with the long run. A 3-pointer by Ervin pushed the lead to 20 points at 67-47 with 7:30 left. Weems added two 3-pointers as Arkansas finally pushed the lead to 30 points.

South Carolina, the two-time defending NIT champion, wound up under .500 and won’t have a chance to defend that title.

The Gamecocks (14-16) were led by Brandon Wallace’s 16 points and 15 rebounds. Bryce Sheldon added 13 points, including three 3-pointers, and Tre Kelly had 11 points – 8 below his average – on 4-for-14 shooting.

Both teams struggled with poor shooting in the opening half. South Carolina was only 2-for-10 on 3-pointers and made only 33 percent of its shots from the field overall. Arkansas wasn’t much sharper, shooting 37 percent, but led 31-24 at the break by outscoring South Carolina 10-0 at the free-throw line.

South Carolina’s Dominique Archie, a freshman from Augusta, missed the final 13:29 of the first half after injuring his left leg. He returned in the second half.