FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (USC SID) — The South Carolina Gamecocks entered Saturday afternoon’s season finale at Arkansas with a lot on the line, needing its first win at Bud Walton Arena in eight years to lock up the third seed in the upcoming SEC tournament. The team would execute on both ends of the floor to pull out the 76-61 win and finish the regular season at 24-7 (11-7 SEC).
Sindarius Thornwell led the team with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Four Gamecocks in total reached double figures in scoring, helping to alleviate the absence of Michael Carrera, who missed the game with a hip injury.
The two sides duked it out through the first 10 minutes of the game, trading the lead off five times with four ties. The Gamecocks were able to break the game open behind a 15-2 run that was more a product of their defense than their offense. Starting from a 14-all tie with 11:26 to play, Carolina held Arkansas (16-15, 9-9) scoreless for almost five minutes to take the game’s first commanding lead.
The Razorbacks missed a total of nine shots during the cold snap, and the Gamecocks made them pay with an incredible advantage in rebounding for the first half in total. Led by Mindaugas Kacinas’ six rebounds, Carolina pulled down 27 rebounds in the first half, 17 more than Arkansas. That margin helped the visitors overcome sizeable disadvantages in fouls called against them (11-6) and turnovers committed (9-4).
The lead topped out at 13, 29-16, with six minutes left in the half. Arkansas would get back into single digits twice, but Thornwell hit a layup to end the half with the Gamecocks ahead 36-24. He would lead all scorers with 15 in the period, shooting 6-of-8 from the field, and Kacinas and Raymond Doby combined for 12 points and 10 rebounds down low.
The Gamecocks switched up their strategy coming out of the break, opting to press Arkansas whenever possible. That would pay big dividends early in the second half, as they converted 10 points off five early turnovers and outscored Arkansas 20-5 in the first six minutes of the period. Highlighting the opening salvo was a streak of seven-straight made field goals coming in just over three minutes, with Duane Notice reaping the benefits of the press with seven early points.
Boosted by the defensive pressure, South Carolina shot 54 percent as a team in the second half. When the Razorbacks were able to run their offense, they too would find success, and started to shoot their way back into the game in the final eight minutes. The home side would lean on its strength of outside shooting to claw back into the game, hitting five 3s in the final 15 minutes.
The Hogs would cut what once was a 27-point lead all the way down to nine, 70-61, with four minutes still to play. The Gamecocks would not let them get any closer than that, though, holding them scoreless the rest of the game to hang on for the critical win.
After five lead changes through the first nine minutes of the game, South Carolina broke a 14-14 tie with a 15-2 run over a five-minute stretch to take control of the game. Sindarius Thornwell scored nine of the team’s points in that span and finished with 15 in the half. Arkansas missed seven-straight shots during the Gamecocks’ run.
Despite the loss of its leading rebounder Michael Carrera, South Carolina dominated inside for the game, finishing with a 41-26 lead in rebounds. The Gamecocks also held a sizable advantage in second-chance points (13-5) and points in the paint (40-20).
South Carolina will await the official bracket for its first opponent at next week’s SEC Tournament, but will open up competition Friday, March 11 in the quarterfinal round. The event will be held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, beginning Wednesday and running through the championship game on Sunday. SEC Network will televise the first three rounds, and the semifinals and finals will be broadcast on ESPN.
- The team has 24 wins this season, tied for the most since 1996-97. The 11 conference wins are the most since 1997-98.
- Saturday was the team’s first win at Arkansas since 2008. The Gamecocks are now 4-10 all-time at Bud Walton Arena.
- Senior Michael Carrera missed the regular season finale with a hip injury. He is listed as day-to-day.
- With his first basket, four minutes into the game, junior Duane Notice scored his 1,000th career point. He becomes the 44th player in program history to achieve the milestone, the third this season alone.
- Raymond Doby scored eight points in the game, the most against a Division I opponent this season. He also recorded a season-high four rebounds in 14 minutes of playing time.
- Tonight was the team’s first win at Arkansas since 2008. The Gamecocks are now 4-10 all-time at Bud Walton Arena.