South Carolina Basketball: Gamecocks cruise past Razorbacks in SEC Tournament opener

South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris got paid in the morning with a contract extension and led his team to an SEC Tournament victory in the afternoon.

South Carolina basketball forward Collin Murray-Boyles
South Carolina basketball forward Collin Murray-Boyles / Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris had a big day on Thursday. After receiving a huge contract extension Thursday morning (one in which he is set to make over $4 Million per year through the 2029-2030 season), Paris and his Gamecocks opened up their SEC Tournament on Thursday afternoon.

The Arkansas Razorbacks were USC's opponents. The Hogs had knocked off the Vanderbilt Commodores in overtime on Wednesday to earn the right to play the Gamecocks in Nashville.

The game began with Trevon Brazile winning the tip for the Razorbacks, and the big fella got the ball back quickly, canning a 3-pointer to open the scoring. Gamecock forward BJ Mack went at Brazile on the next possession, scoring through contact and converting the 3-point play. Brazile stayed aggressive, though, and he made another outside shot.

The two teams traded misses over the next couple of minutes before Khalif Battle scored through a Mack foul after a questionable decision by the Gamecocks to save a ball out of bounds under their own basket. When Battle scored again, Arkansas was up big 11-3.

Collin Murray-Boyles drew Brazile's second foul with a nice and-1 conversion, sending Arkansas' best interior defender (and, today, a 3-point threat) to the bench. Murray-Boyles got a tough shot in the lane to fall and then threw down a big dunk in the pick-and-roll. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Arkansas answered both scores with buckets of their own, maintaining their lead.

CMB's 8th and 9th points of the game made the score 15-14 in favor of Eric Musselman's squad, and though the game was being played at a faster pace than the Gamecocks usually like to play, Carolina took the lead on a Myles Stute corner 3-pointer. The 7-0 run ended when Jalen Graham got a layup to go in traffic.

The scoring went back and forth even as the pace slowed. Collin Murray-Boyles and BJ Mack carried the load on offense for the Gamecocks, while Arkansas had three different players with at least 6 points in the opening 15 minutes.

Makhi Mitchell regained the lead for Arkansas with a layup through a Josh Gray foul, and then he scored again on his team's next possession to go up by 3 with just under 3 minutes left in the half.

The foul calls picked up a bit down the stretch. Zach Davis picked up his 2nd foul, but after a short break, he returned to lead the Gamecocks in their formidable 1-3-1 zone. Arkansas was unable to score and had 3 turnovers in the final 2 minutes against the zone. With just 4 seconds left, Lamont Paris called Meechie Johnson's number. Despite shooting 1-6 before that point, Paris had confidence in his veteran guard, and Johnson drove the length of the floor in 4 seconds for a layup to go up 38-35.

After halftime, the Gamecocks got 6 quick points from Collin Murray-Boyles and Ta'Lon Cooper, and in the blink of an eye, they led by 9 points. When non-scoring guard El Ellis dribbled around for 20 seconds before throwing up an ugly brick and then Zach Davis got a layup to go on the other end, it felt as if the Arkansas Razorbacks had quit. With 17:30 left in the game, USC led 46-35.

Ellis took another shot in traffic (just his 2nd of the game), and Ta'Lon Cooper hit a fadeaway jumper in his face on the other side of the floor. The 10-0 run to start the half finally ended when Makhi Mitchell scored in the paint. When the media timeout stopped play right after that, the Gamecocks led 48-37, and Eric Musselman took Ellis out of the game.

BJ Mack was whistled for the third time in the game on a questionable offensive foul, and Arkansas scored just their second time in the 2nd half after Jacobi Wright got beaten on a backcut. Collin Murray-Boyles responded with another paint bucket, and then Josh Gray nearly tore down the rim Shaquille O'Neil-style with a punishing slam.

Gray was fouled on a dunk attempt, but with no whistle blown, Arkansas scored to keep their deficit at 11. With El Ellis no longer on the court, the Hogs showed more life. Making 5 of 7 shots and holding the Gamecocks without a field goal for over 5 minutes, Arkansas cut the USC lead to just 6 points.

BJ Mack hit a 3-pointer to end the Gamecock scoring drought, and Collin Murray-Boyles scored twice on assists from Zach Davis to make the score 60-49. The frustrations boiled over Musselman, as well, as he was assessed a technical foul that allowed Carolina to go up by 15 points with 7 games to go.

The lead swelled to 20 as the Gamecocks got bucket after bucket at the rim. The last bit of hope left for a comeback seemed to dissipate, and heading into the final media timeout, the Gamecocks led 74-54.

Lamont Paris' team coasted to the finish line, and the Gamecocks picked up just their second SEC Tournament victory in the last 9 years. As the final buzzer sounded, South Carolina basketball won handily 80-66 to tie the all-time program record for wins in a season. They will play Auburn on Friday at 3:30 PM EST. The game will be on ESPN.

South Carolina Basketball vs. Arkansas Razorbacks. 80. 533. Final. 66. 524