Coming in shorthanded with the absence of a key contributor in freshman big man Jaylin Williams, the 12th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks didn’t blink as they locked up a second-place finish in the SEC with a punishing 101-73 win Tuesday over league bottom-feeder South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., and in doing so the Hogs also extended their second-best league winning streak since the program entered the SEC nearly 30 years ago.
Arkansas (20-5, 12-4 SEC, NCAA NET No. 18 entering Tuesday) put up its best point total in SEC play and has now won 10 consecutive league games for the first time since the 1993-94 national championship Razorbacks did the same as part of an overall 12-game winning streak against SEC competition. With one more game remaining in the regular season — at home Saturday against Texas A&M — the Razorbacks finished with a 5-3 road record in SEC play for the second-best road mark in the league. Counting a 4-point road loss at Oklahoma State in the SEC / Big 12 Challenge in late January, which stands as the last time Arkansas lost a game, the Hogs finished with an overall 5-4 road record on the season.
Freshman guard Moses Moody of Little Rock matched his career-high of 28 points (10-of-15 field goals, including 4-of-9 from 3, and 4-of-4 free throws) and the Hogs made 10 three-pointers at a 50% clip in the first half while running out to a 17-point lead at the break before finishing 15-of-33 from distance (45.5%) while mostly attacking the rim with success in the final 20 minutes as their lead never fell below 14 points.
Moody notched his second 20-plus scoring effort in the last 3 games and 7th of the season to go with 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals; senior combo forward Justin Smith picked up where he left off in February with another stellar performance (a season-high 22 points and 8 rebounds); junior guard JD Notae had his third consecutive productive game off the bench with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals; junior guard Desi Sills made a career-high 5 three-pointers (out of 7 attempts, and 4 were made in the first half) for 15 points off the bench; sophomore stretch-5 Connor Vanover finished with 3 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 1 assist; and freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis had 4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.
Arkansas snapped a two-game losing streak against South Carolina (6-13, 4-11 SEC, NCAA NET No. 112 entering Tuesday) dating back to the ’18-19 campaign as the Hogs came into the game needing one win in their final two games, or a Florida loss, to lock up sole possession of a second-place finish in the SEC and the accompanying No. 2 seed in next week’s SEC tournament (March 10-14 in Nashville, Tenn.). Each of the top 4 seeds determined in the SEC regular-season receive a double-bye into the SECT quarterfinals on Friday, March 12.
With their SEC second-place finish cemented, if the Razorbacks win their final game against the Aggies they would finish with the program’s second-best regular-season SEC record by percentage (’93-94 is tops at 14-2), tied for its second-fewest regular-season SEC losses (’94-95 finished 12-4), and tied for its second-most regular-season SEC wins (’14-15 finished 13-5).
In his second season as Head Hog, Eric Musselman improved to 4-0 while coaching a ranked Arkansas team, 20-15 in SEC games, 40-17 overall at Arkansas, and he evened his record to 1-1 coaching head-to-head against South Carolina’s Frank Martin in SEC play. Musselman has reached 20 overall wins in each of his two seasons at Arkansas.
“Our chemistry right now is phenomenal,” Musselman said during his postgame interview with the SEC Network. “The guys really, really enjoy playing with each other. They understand their roles. They’re playing really, really unselfish, both offensively and then there’s unselfishness defensively, meaning we’re in gaps and giving great help as well.
“Last week (revenge wins over Alabama and LSU) was so emotional, and then to be able to come out and have a road game (on Tuesday) … because of the short turnaround and the emotion that went into the Alabama and LSU games, I was really concerned about this game. But our guys did a great job of being focused in practice the last 2 days and then at shoot-around this morning.”
Moody talked more about the positive team chemistry and ceiling-less possibilities for the Hogs as they approach the postseason beginning next week.
“I love my teammates,” Moody said. “We’ve all just been able to form this camaraderie that I’ve never felt before. It’s just great to be able to stay around your team. And even the bubble aspect helps, because you’ve got no choice but to be around your team 24/7.
“Before the season started, we had a list of goals and we’re just checking them off as we go. I think the sky’s the limit for this team. There’s no lid to what this team can accomplish. I think we can make it as far as we want to go.”
In addition to its torrid three-point shooting, Arkansas made 37-of-67 overall from the field (55.2%) and 12-of-13 from the free throw line (92.3%). Defensively, the Hogs held Carolina to 27-of-72 field goal shooting (37.5%), including 6-of-23 from 3 (26.1%). The Gamecocks were 13-of-23 from the free throw line.
Arkansas and South Carolina both finished with 39 rebounds, but the Hogs won bench points (42-32), points-off-turnovers (19-17), assists (17-13), steals (10-9), and blocks (4-2).
Junior guard AJ Lawson led the Gamecocks with 18 points and 3 rebounds while wing Keyshawn Bryant chipped in 13 points and 9 rebounds.
Musselman went with the same starting lineup for the 7th consecutive game — Moody, Davis, Smith, Vanover, and senior combo guard Jalen Tate.
Moody put 12 points on the board in seemingly a blink of an eye as the Hogs took an early 14-13 lead. That’s when Sills checked in and drilled his first four triple attempts to spark a 24-11 Hogs’ run that put them ahead, 38-25.
Carolina strung together a 4-0 spurt capped by Lawson hitting a jumper to pull within 38-29, but Notae and Smith scored all of the Hogs’ points in an 11-3 run to close out the first half as Arkansas carried its biggest lead of 17 points into the break.
Arkansas shot 18-of-33 from the field (54.5%), including a blistering 10-of-20 from 3 (50%) in the first half, compared to only 12-of-43 from the field (27.9%) for South Carolina, including only 3-of-13 from 3 (23.1%). Moody led the way with 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists while Sills had 12 points.