Photo gallery (photos by Allen Sharpe)
It just wasn't South Carolina's night on Wednesday, Feb. 15, against Arkansas at Colonial Life Arena. Down by two points late in the game, Chris Silva's game-tying shot hit both sides of the rim and bounced out. Less than two minutes later, Arkansas' Manuale Watkins threw up a prayer at the shot-clock buzzer, and the ball bounced off the backboard and dribbled through the net to give the Razorbacks a three-point lead again.
Arkansas would eventually come away with the 83-76 victory over No. 21 South Carolina. While there may have been some bad luck involved, it's a simple fact that the Gamecocks have to start playing better. They've dropped two straight home games, and with the loss to the Gamecocks fell out of a first-place tie in the SEC.
"They're good dudes," head coach Frank Martin said. "I really like our team, but our mindset right now is not good. I'm telling you, it has nothing to do with losing, it's just our approach."
Great on defense for most of the season, the Gamecocks have struggled on that side of the ball of late.
"We're not doing what we've been doing throughout the season," senior Sindarius Thornwell said. "It starts with us guards, me, Duane (Notice), the leaders of the defense. We're not doing our job."
Arkansas (19-7, 8-5 SEC) was able to take an early lead, but Thornwell's dunk gave the Gamecocks the advantage at 3-2. The Razorbacks were able to tie things up at five, but South Carolina (20-6, 10-3 SEC) turned up the pressure defensively and Chris Silva took over on offense.
Silva's turnaround shot jumpstarted the run before Thornwell nailed his first three of the game. The Gamecocks converted two Arkansas turnovers into layups to make it 14-5 at the media timeout. In that stretch to begin the game, Silva had five points and four rebounds, but picked up his second foul before the timeout and was forced to sit on the bench for the rest of the first half.
A Dozier three and Notice breakaway dunk made it a 14-0 run and 19-5 lead for the Gamecocks.
Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, the hot shooting start stalled out, and Arkansas used a huge run to get back into the game. Dusty Hannahs nailed two 3-pointers to pull the Razorbacks to within six at the under-12 media timeout.
Arkansas kept up the run, and a three by Trey Thompson capped the 15-0 spurt and gave the Razorbacks a 20-19 lead. Thornwell finally broke the nearly six-minute long scoring drought for the Gamecocks with a layup.
The Razorbacks would continue to stay hot from the field, particularly from deep, and a 10-0 run gave them a 30-21 advantage over South Carolina. The 25-2 run switched all of the momentum over to the Razorbacks and the Gamecocks needed a stop.
A stop they got, and the team soon heated back up on offense. Notice drained two free throws and Thornwell and Dozier recorded backdoor layups to cut into the lead. Then, Thornwell converted a traditional three-point play to tie the game at 30.
The game of runs continued when Arkansas ended the first half on a 9-2 run to take a 39-32 lead into the locker room.
Thornwell had 12 points to lead the Gamecocks, who made 13-of-35 (37.1 percent) field goals. Barford had 17 first-half points for the Razorbacks, who shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first half.
Both teams traded baskets in a wild start to the second half. Arkansas was able to take a momentary 12-point lead before Notice's three brought the Gamecocks to within double digits. The Razorbacks were able to use a couple of easy fast break layups to restore a 12-point lead before South Carolina went on another run.
Trailing by 10 points, Thornwell drove into the lane and got a reverse layup to fall and Justin McKie dropped a corner 3-pointer to make it 55-50 with 12:22 to play. A couple of plays later, Hassani Gravett threw up an alley-oop to Silva, who stretched and threw it down to bring South Carolina to within a point.
However, Hannahs sandwiched seven points of his own around a Silva free throw to put the Razorbacks up by seven.
A three-point play by Silva brought the Gamecocks to within five again, but Arkansas kept answering and the Gamecocks could not get closer than that for a while. South Carolina eventually mounted a run as Notice's three-point play brought the Gamecocks to within four, and Thornwell's tough layup made it 73-71.
But Silva's game-tying layup rimmed out, and Arkansas scored on the other end to make it a four-point game again. Dozier and Thornwell recorded layups to bring it to one point on two occasions, but as they did all night, the Razorbacks answered and were able to pull away for the seven-point win.
Thornwell had 27 points to lead the Gamecocks, who made 28-of-65 (43.1 percent) field goals. Barford finished with 23 points for Arkansas, which made 30-of-56 (53.6 percent) field goals.
South Carolina returns to action on Saturday, Feb. 18, with a road game at Vanderbilt. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.
The Gamecocks were able to rebound from a tough, four-overtime home loss to Alabama and get a road win at Mississippi State this past Saturday, and they'll need to do the same thing in Nashville.
"Like last week, we can't let it happen twice in a row," Thornwell said. "We have to come in focused tomorrow."
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe**