The Arkansas Razorback men’s basketball team (15-5, 3-4) battled the South Carolina Gamecocks (12-8, 4-3) on Wednesday in a hard-hitting dog fight in Bud Walton Arena.
The Gamecocks were able to escape with a narrow 79-77 win. The game came down to the final play – a missed three-pointer by Razorback sophomore guard Isaiah Joe from the left corner as time expired.
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said the final play was intended for junior guard Mason Jones to get an isolation play in the middle of the floor, but South Carolina denied him the ball. On the play, sophomore guard Desi Sills looked to have a lane to the basket before passing the ball to Joe in the corner, but Sills opted to pass the ball in an attempt to win the game in regulation.
Even though South Carolina never trailed, the game was hard-fought and within striking range for the Razorbacks the whole time. The largest lead South Carolina was able to create was 11 points around 10 minutes into the game. Arkansas was able to tie the game at 40 points apiece early in the second half and brought the game within one with 28 seconds to play.
Arkansas was able to score a few quick buckets in a row, but every time the Razorbacks seemed to get any momentum the Gamecocks would run down the court past the defense and get a quick layup or make a tough three-pointer.
Musselman was impressed by the team’s will to win.
“We didn’t quit,” Musselman said. “We played hard.”
The Hogs overcame a crucial technical foul called on a staff member sitting on the bench with under five minutes to go. The foul allowed the Gamecocks to stretch the lead to six during the crucial stages of the game.
A staff member on the bench appeared to disagree with a foul called on sophomore forward Reggie Chaney and stood up to let the referee hear about it. Coach Musselman was very upset with his staff member.
“Not happy at all… The only person who should talk to the referees is me,” Musselman said.
South Carolina gave Arkansas opportunities to come back. Gamecock sophomore guard A.J. Lawson missed both free throws on a trip to the line with just over five minutes to play. Also, a dropped pass went out of bounds off of South Carolina with 42 seconds left which allowed Jones to make two free throws and bring the game within one point, and a missed free throw by USC freshman guard Jermaine Cousinard with 26 seconds left kept the game at a two-point spread.
Arkansas started the game slowly. It took almost five minutes for the Razorbacks to score, which made it difficult for Arkansas from the start. Musselman spoke about the slow star postgame.
“I didn’t think we had any rhythm,” he said.
Arkansas missed its first six shots and turned the ball over three times before scoring. Arkansas only trailed 6-0 at that point.
Turnovers were a problem for both teams. Each team finished with 16. The Hogs were able to outscore the Gamecocks 11-8 on points off of turnovers.
The referees had a busy night in Bud Walton. There were 57 fouls called, resulting in 73 free throw attempts.
Neither team executed very well at the line. South Carolina entered the game as one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country, shooting 61% and ranking 344th in the NCAA. Arkansas entered shooting 74%, ranking 79th in the NCAA.
In the game, the Gamecocks made 17 of 33 from the stripe, while the Hogs made 26 of 40. Jones was the exception to the Hogs’ free throw struggles. He made 15 of his 16 attempts.
Jones was the standout player for Arkansas. He finished the game with 34 points and 12 rebounds. He was able to score 26 points and grab nine rebounds in the second half alone. He led the game in both categories.
Lawson led the Gamecocks with 19 points in what South Carolina head coach Frank Martin called his best game of the year.
Joe returned to the court after missing one game, coming off the bench early in the contest. He had a rough night, only making five of his 16 shot attempts. Joe did have a few key shots that kept South Carolina from pulling away. He sank a three with just under two minutes to play to cut the lead in half.
“It’s not effective for us right now,” said Musselman when asked about the team’s three-point shooting.
The team made seven of 26 three-point attempts for a 27% clip from behind the arc.
In SEC play the Razorbacks have only made 50 of 166 three point attempts, totaling a subpar 30%.
Arkansas’ next game is Saturday, Feb. 1, at 5 p.m. in Tuscaloosa against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.