South Carolina just cannot get on the same page. For once, the Gamecocks scrapped the digital camo shorts for traditional-looking shorts that actually matched the tops they were sporting. While their jerseys were aesthetically pleasing, their play was not. And this came after the most impressive South Carolina performance of the season this past weekend.
The Gamecocks were down to eight scholarship players tonight after Demetrius Henry and Justin McKie missed their third straight game with concussions, and Shamiek Sheppard also sat out after having a procedure that removed fluid from his knee.
Already at a depth disadvantage, the Gamecocks made the adversity even tougher to overcome. Five South Carolina players had at least three fouls. Sindarius Thornwell picked up his third foul with just under seven minutes left in the first half. He sat from that moment until a few minutes into the second half. Immediately after Sin sat, the Razorbacks exploded to an 18-3 run. Tyrone Johnson picked up his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half when Arkansas held the largest lead of the game up to that moment (11). Mindaugas Kacinas fouled out of the game after contributing five points and 10 rebounds.
While the lack of depth and the dooming foul trouble were certainly themes of the loss, Arkansas' performance was impressive at certain junctions of the game.
The Razorbacks jumped out to an early 6-0 lead before the Gamecocks went on a 10-run despite a very sloppy early period. During that stretch Arkansas missed eight consecutive field goal attempts while both teams struggled through sluggish starts. The SEC's fifth leading scorer, junior guard Michael Qualls, uncharacteristically came off the bench after a string of poor performances in games leading up to Tuesday night. Qualls' energy and athleticism changed the pace of the game despite his 0-of-7 first half. Star forward Bobby Portis came alive and South Carolina was slow to help when Portis got the ball in the paint. While they woke up, the Razorbacks couldn't buy a basket and their defense is what did South Carolina in the most. They blocked and contested nearly every South Carolina drive while the extra gear they revved increased the pace and forced the Gamecocks into poor decisions. Entering tonight, South Carolina averaged 13 turnovers per game for the season. They turned the ball over 14 times in the first half alone tonight. The Gamecocks seven-point halftime deficit would have been much worse if Arkansas could have made any kind of shot in the first period of play. For the game, the Razorbacks turned 20 USC turnovers into 21 points in their 75-55 win.
While the decision-making was often absent tonight, the effort was consistent. Laimonas Chatkevicius was playing his butt off, constantly pushing himself up and down the floor despite his exhausted look. Chat finished with six points, six rebounds, and four fouls. Despite foul trouble, Thornwell led the way with 16 points on an impressive shooting night, especially from outside where he shot 3-of-4 from behind the arc. Stroman tied his season high of 10 points and added six rebounds and four assists, but also turned the ball over four times. Notice also had four turnovers and piled on by only scoring five points on 2-of-10 shooting. Carrera hit the boards as usual with 9 rebounds but not didn't contribute much else while Johnson contributed seven points and three turnovers.
In the Gamecocks upset win over Arkansas in last year's SEC Tournament, Portis was held to 11 points and three rebounds. Tonight, the future NBAer tallied a double-double going for 18 points and 13 rebounds.
The SEC Network announcers commented on the dejected looks that peppered the South Carolina bench towards the end of the game. The Gamecocks have now lost 19 of their last 20 SEC road games and are 1-12 on the road in the SEC since the start of the 2013-14 season.
The best shot for South Carolina to win this type of game, or any road game, is to make it as ugly as possible and try to squeak it out. The ugliness was sure there but the lack of depth, foul trouble, another poor shooting performance (27.9%), and Arkansas' superior talent is what doomed the Gamecocks.
The two teams meet again, this time in Columbia, on March 5. Next up however is the Vanderbilt Commodores and Frank Martin's team will hit the road for Nashville this Saturday.