FAYETTEVILLE — South Carolina took control early and never trailed in a grind-game that typically favors Arkansas, but the Gamecocks held off every Hog challenge while stealing a 79-77 SEC road win on Wednesday in front of 14,085 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
After freshman guard Jermaine Couisnard made 1-of-2 free throws for a 79-77 Gamecocks lead with 26 seconds to play, South Carolina (12-8, 4-3 SEC) made two big defensive stops to hand Arkansas (15-5, 3-4 SEC) its third consecutive league loss (two of which were suffered at BWA).
The first stop was the result of a deflection out of bounds after a baseline drive by Arkansas’s Mason Jones that left only 7.5 seconds on the clock, then after a 30-second Hogs’ timeout, the second stop came when Gamecocks guard Trae Hannibal denied Jones the ball in a play designed for him that resulted in a contested left-corner three-point shot attempt by sophomore guard Isaiah Joe that missed as time expired.
“We have a 3-point shooter get a look to try and win the game,” Musselman said. “If Mason would have caught it, we didn’t have to get a 3. We ran an isolation for him and he has done such a good job of drawing fouls and converting. Obviously we all go back and dissect that.”
In a game that saw 57 total fouls — including 40 in the second half — and 73 combined free throw attempts (both teams struggled at the line), South Carolina was better shooting the ball from the field (28-of-55 field goals for 50.9% compared to Arkansas’s 22-of-54 for 40.7%).
A good part of Carolina’s shooting efficiency came in transition as the Gamecocks scored behind the Hogs’ defense after turnovers, missed shots, and even after Arkansas’s made shots. South Carolina made 9 fewer free throws than Arkansas, but its 17-5 advantage in fast-break points was significant in the win.
“I think you could look on the flip side and we got some transition baskets, too, but when you are not a great offensive rebounding team, and the same thing happened against Kentucky, there were leak outs (for transition scores),” said Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, who for the first time in his 4-plus seasons as a college head coach has experienced three straight league losses.
The Razorbacks trailed for all but 2:17 of the game, and though they forced a 40-all tie at the 18:38 mark in the second half, Carolina made Arkansas pay for a variety of miscues: Missed free throws (the Hogs were 26-of-40 for 65.0%); turnovers (the Hogs, top 5 in the nation in turnover margin, matched the Gamecocks with 16 giveways); poor transition defense (again, Carolina was plus-12 in transition); and even a technical-foul call on Arkansas’s bench with 5:10 to play that the Gamecocks cashed in for a 4-point possession to push a two-point lead out to 72-66.
“Hays Myers (special assistant to Musselman) got the technical,” Musselman said. “A staff member. Not happy at all. You lose by two at home in a game that has got extreme significance and a staff member gets a technical. The only person that needs to talk to the referees is me and me only. I don’t know what else to say … extremely disappointed.”
“I don’t think it is what he said, I think it is because he stood up or something.”
Musselman was also displeased with his team’s 26 three-point shot attempts that netted only 7 makes (26.9%).
Arkansas played inside-out in a 78-67 win over TCU on Saturday, shooting 54% from the field including an economized 6-of-9 from 3.
“But, you know, we take 26 threes again, we took nine the other night,” Musselman said. “If as a team, you shoot under 30 percent from three, you can’t keep doing that. I’d love to shoot threes, that’s our style that we’ve played in the past, but it’s not effective for us right now. Not taking that many when we took nine last game.”
“We knew that they were a high-volume put the other team on the free-throw line. We took 40, we could have taken who knows how many if we hadn’t have taken 26 of our 54 shots from three. Who knows how many foul shots we could have taken.”
Arkansas got a game-high 34 points (9-of-15 field goals, including 1-of-6 from 3, and 15-of-16 free throws), a career-high 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 7 turnovers from Jones. It was his second career double-double and fifth career 30-point game, although the Hogs are winless in three SEC games when he scored 30 or more points.
“Well, we just have got to get better,” Jones said of the three-game SEC losing streak. “We’ve got to look at the little things that we’re doing. We are not far off to be honest. We’re not far off.”
“You look at the stats it’s just free throws. We’ve got to get better. I’m a team player and I love to see my teammates happy. We are all down right now but like I told them, we’re going to get better. The sun rises tomorrow and stay in the gym.”
Joe played off the bench for the first time in his Arkansas career (now 53 games) after missing the TCU game with a knee injury. He finished with 16 points (5-of-16 field goals, including 5-of-14 from 3, and 1-of-2 free throws), 1 rebound, 1 steal, and 2 turnovers in 36 minutes.
Carolina was led by sophomore guard AJ Lawson’s 19 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Guard Jair Bolden had 12 points off the bench. Senior 6-11 big man Maik Kotsar had 10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block. Hannibal finished with 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist.
Carolina shot 6-of-20 from 3 (30%) and 17-of-33 free throws (51.5%). Both teams grabbed 36 rebounds. The Gamecocks won points-in-the-paint (36-28) and bench scoring (37-25).
South Carolina controlled the paint at both ends from the opening tip and jumped out to leads of 8-2, 14-5, and 22-12 before Arkansas responded with a 7-2 mini spurt to pull within 24-20 at the 5:21 mark.
Sills went down with what appeared to be a lower right leg injury at 2:37 in the middle of a 9-2 Carolina run that gave the Gamecocks a 38-28 lead.
Joe made his third three-point basket at 1:36 to pull Arkansas within 38-31, but Harris managed only 1-of-3 free throws from there as the Hogs could only close within 38-32 at the break.
Next up for Arkansas, the Hogs go on the road for a Saturday, Feb. 1, matchup with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.