Lamont Paris' South Carolina basketball team entered Saturday's contest against the Arkansas Razorbacks in unfamiliar territory. The Gamecocks lost their last game against the Georgia Bulldogs, and the defeat marked the second time USC had fallen in the last three times they played (loss @ Alabama, win @ Missouri, loss vs. Georgia). At 14-3 on the season, the 'Cocks have not had many opportunities to bounce back from a loss.
Saturday's game with the Hogs was going to be a tough one as Bud Walton Arena is one of the best venues in all of college basketball, and the Gamecocks had lost 8 of their previous 11 games against Arkansas and were 5-12 all-time out west in Fayetteville. However, Carolina bounced back in a big way.
The game began with Arkansas’ Trevon Brazile controlling the opening tip over Collin Murray-Boyles, but the Gamecocks got a stop and Murray-Boyles opened the game’s scoring with an athletic layup. Meechie Johnson knocked down a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to push the USC lead to 5-0 before Brazile and Chandler Lawson made back-to-back shots.
Backing down in the post, BJ Mack found CMB on the other block, and the freshman converted an and-one through contact (free throw good). A couple of stops later, and two free throws from Zach Davis (starting in place of the injured Myles Stute) made the score 10-4.
The two teams traded buckets over the next several minutes, and big Josh Gray was the top performer during the stretch for USC. The big man picked up 4 points, 2 rebounds, and an assist in about three minutes, and South Carolina basketball carried a 17-10 lead into the under-12 media timeout.
A strange flagrant foul call against Josh Gray resulted in three points for the home team, and then the two teams traded more scores. BJ Mack took three 3-pointers, though, and the big man made Arkansas pay, canning all three shots to put his squad up 27-18. After a timeout, nice defense from Stephen Clark led to an extra possession, and Collin Murray-Boyles picked up a big dunk to put Carolina up by 10.
Morris Ugusuk and Stephen Clark both went 1-2 from the free throw line over the next few minutes, and each team picked up an easy layup. After an El Ellis foul sent Meechie Johnson to the free throw line following the under-4 media timeout, USC led 35-23.
Despite a field goal drought for South Carolina that lasted over four and a half minutes, the Gamecocks took a 39-27 lead into the halftime break.
Zach Davis, the only Gamecock in foul trouble, returned from halftime with energy, converting an offensive rebound into a second-chance bucket. El Ellis scored twice (his first two makes of the game) to cut the lead to 10, but Josh Gray responded with a layup in traffic off of a nice find from Collin Murray-Boyles.
Despite what felt like a run from the Hogs, the Gamecocks led 49-36 after a big dunk on Tramon Mark from Zach Davis in the halfcourt. Getting dunked on seemed to wake up Mark, and he scored 6 straight points from behind the arc. However, Ta’Lon Cooper came back on the other end and hit a big long-range shot of his own to quite the crowd (the student section had been heckling him loudly prior to the make).
Mark took a wild shot on the other end, and after the miss, Jacobi Wright scored to restore a 12-point lead for Lamont Paris’ squad. The fans in Bud Walton Arena, who had just deafeningly called the Hogs during a timeout, all of a sudden were silent.
A few possessions later, Meechie Johnson hit a 3-pointer from almost 30 feet out, and then Cooper cashed in on an open 3-pointer in Tramon Mark’s face to inflate the Gamecocks’ lead to 17 points, 60-43.
South Carolina didn’t make another shot from the field for almost 4 minutes, but even still, the CourtCocks led the Razorbacks 66-49 after a BJ Mack post fadeaway. By the time Ta'Lon Cooper hit a 3-pointer to make things 69-51, the Arkansas student section didn't have the heart to keep heckling the Gamecock point guard.
A big dunk from Collin Murray-Boyles started a run of buckets for both teams, but once the Arkansas started missing, the Gamecocks put on the cruise control. Coasting to the finish line, Lamont Paris' team moved to 15-3 (3-2) after winning in Fayetteville for just the 6th time in program history.