Arkansas dives into the postseason Thursday feeling better about themselves and with two players having earned SEC distinction.

Arkansas senior forward Erynn Barnum was tabbed a second-team All-SEC selection while Saylor Poffenberger was one of eight players named to the league’s All-Freshman squad.

The duo will  take the court on at 11 a.m. when eighth-seeded Arkansas (20-11, 7-9) and ninth-seeded Missouri (17-12, 6-10) meet in the second round of the SEC Tournament in Greenville, S.C.

The game will be televised by the SEC Network with the Razorbacks, who had lost three games in a row and four of five, fresh off a home victory over Texas A&M 78-65 on Sunday.  

“When you go through the season and see those ups and those downs and those kids live with an incredible – I don’t want use the word pressure, but just a lot of people looking – but to see them smiling and see them high fiving again, to see a little bit of laughter,” Neighbors said. 

Arkansas started the regular season 14-0, but  skidded to the finish with a 7-11 mark.

“Sports is crazy the way it makes you feel after a loss because it makes you feel 10 times worse than winning makes you feel good,” Neighbors said. “That’s just the biology of it. I finally researched it and found out that the hormone is five times stronger. That’s why it feels that way.”

Arkansas hopes of being in the NCAA Tournament could rest on beating Missouri – which it has done twice this season and nine times in a row – and how it does against No. 1 South Carolina (29-0-, 16-0) in the next round.

“It’s a thought and I track it,” Neighbors said of being on the tournament bubble. “I’m not all of sudden going to flip the script on y’all and tell you I don’t look at that stuff.  I do.

“I can tell you this – we just have got to keep giving people a reason to talk about us in a good way. That’s by winning and playing well.”

The opportunity is there to add to the resume.

“…You got a chance to play against Missouri, which is top 50 in the NET and then you get the unanimous number one team in the country and see how you play against them,” Neighbors said.

“I don’t begin to know what the committee will do, but I know have to them ammunition to be talking about us favorably. So we have to play well and the results will take care of themselves.”

Neighbors praised the honoring of Barnum, who is averaging 16.3 points and 6.6 rebounds this season and was one 10 midseason power forward finalists for the Katrina McLain Award.

“I’ll start with Erynn because of what a great story it is,” Neighbors said. “A kid that has developed and worked and waited and has earned her playing time and didn’t get frustrated like a lot of kids have done with the transfer portal world…When her opportunity came, made the most of it and has gotten better and better in every aspect of her game.

“Couldn’t have happened to a kid that has been dealt a lot of tough knocks too early in her life. Just a great example of sticking with things, doing hard things the hard way and not doing the least path of resistance. Taking the hard path and sticking with it, perseverence and all those 64 thousand dollar words.

“Super proud for her and of her mainly because of the way she did it.”

Poffenbarger, who sit out last season after transferring from UConn, is averaging 8.7 points and tied Barnum for the team lead with 6.6 boards per outing.

“With Saylor on the All-Freshman team, it’s tough to be a freshman period and in this league it is really, really hard to establish yourself in that category,” Neighbors said. “I think they named eight total. She’s a worker and I think she understands that it’s a honor, but it comes because of what her teammates did, too.”

Poffenberger has been a defensive standout in slowing down Missouri star Haley Frank in the Razorbacks’ 77-55 win over the Tigers in Columbia on Jan. 8 and 61-33 in Fayetteville on Feb. 12.

“Our best two defensive games have been against Missouri,” Neighbors. “…It’s a great match up for Saylor, a great match up for our guards and a good natch up for Erynn…But we have to remind them it is going to be 0-0 when it starts and we will have to make the adjustments along the way.” 

Photo by John D. James