COLUMBIA - Depending on your perspective, Carolina Coliseum was half full or half empty for South Carolina's game against Arkansas on Tuesday night.
The glass for the Gamecocks' NCAA Tournament hopes is neither; it's almost completely empty.
South Carolina suffered perhaps its most disappointing loss of the season against the Razorbacks, who devoured a 10-point deficit in the final 3:28 for a 69-67 victory before 5,962 fans.
Arkansas swingman Joe Johnson sank a 3-pointer from the left wing with 12 seconds left to complete the unlikely comeback.
"I actually feel sorry for them," Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler said of his team. "I generally don't feel sorry for teams I coach. We're a ball-handler shy against teams with that kind of pressure."
In the final 3:28, the Gamecocks turned the ball over four times and were outscored 14-2.
"It's hard for us mentally and physically," said a tearful Tony Kitchings, a former South Aiken High standout. "We go out and practice every day as hard as we can, and we come up short."
The loss dealt a severe blow to South Carolina's hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid. The NCAA Selection Committee doesn't look favorably on home losses late in the season, and the Gamecocks now have two in a row to their discredit.
Tuesday's defeat was similar to last Saturday's 67-61 loss to Mississippi. The Gamecocks were up 12 in the second half against the Rebels but turned the ball over on five straight possessions to squander the lead and ultimately the game.
Against the Razorbacks, the Gamecocks (13-11, 5-8 SEC) were up 65-55 with 3:36 left.
But Arkansas' full-court press got to South Carolina, which turned the ball over on three straight possessions as the Razorbacks (16-9, 7-6) rattled off a 6-0 spurt in 30 seconds to shave the deficit to 65-63.
After a timeout, Kitchings scored to push the lead to 67-63, but guard Brandon Dean answered on the other end with a 3-pointer from the right corner to make it 67-66 with 1:20 left.
Guarded by Dean, point guard Aaron Lucas drove into the lane trying to create a shot. As Lucas attempted a spin move, Dean stripped the ball and grabbed possession, allowing for Johnson's 3-pointer that sealed it.
A 3-point attempt by North Augusta High grad Antonio Grant bounced off the rim with three seconds remaining, and Johnson snared the rebound.
"I thought we had it won," said Kitchings, who had 12 points and seven rebounds. "It's kind of ignorant of me, but 10 points with 3:45 to go - we felt kind of comfortable with that lead. And I don't know when I've seen it go away in less than a minute."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
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