When it seemed like this year's episode of Senior Night would fall flat, the only active senior led the charge to make the last night of basketball in Colonial Life Arena this season an exhilarating evening. The ending was as dissappointing as the game was streaky but to even be in a situation with the game on the line tonight was the result of one heck of an effort from the home team.
South Carolina hung with No. 18 Arkansas until the first media timeout. The game started with a USC turnover that was converted into an Arkansas lay-up and the Razorbacks hit six of their first seven shots but at that first stoppage of play, the Gamecocks were only down by three, 13-10, thanks to five early points from Carrera. It got ugly and borderline unwatchable from there.
Led by Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls, the Razorbacks imposed their will on South Carolina. Turned lapses in judgement by the Gamecocks into points, bullied USC big men in the paint, and perhaps most exasperating, they drained several contested shots from behind the arc. After that timeout, Arkansas went on an 8-0 run to quickly move their lead to 12. They made 10-of-15 shots, including all of their 3-pointers. At one point in the half, Mike Anderson's group was shooting 82 percent from the field. With six minutes left in the half, Arkansas led by 20: 43-23.
At that moment, South Carolina went on a run of their own that lasted longer than Arkansas' stretch and was quite frankly unbelievable if you had watched any of the previous 14 minutes. The Gamecocks went on a 13-2 run that brought the Razorback lead to nine with a minute left in the half. The deficit stayed at nine as the teams went in the locker room for halftime at 49-38. The Razorbacks 49 first-half points were the most points scored in a half versus the Gamecocks this season (previous record was 43 by Kentucky). Arkansas' lead was fueled by 50 percent shooting from 3-point land and 16 first-half points from Bobby Portis. Neither of those things leaked into the second half, South Carolina's run did.
Duane Notice came out firing in the second half, knocking down two treys to start the final period of play. The Gamecocks went on 13-2 run to start the half, bringing the run since being down by 20 to 26-8. The two Notice threes brought South Carolina within a bucket of Arkansas. The Gamecocks finally completed their comeback and took the lead with 14:01 on a Michael Carrea tip-in. After Arkansas' out of this world shooting in the first half, they missed their first six field goals. Making it worse, their defense wasn't there either. Razorback defenders were out of position, not moving their feet and it cost them. They put South Carolina, a very good foul-shooting team, in the bonus just seven minutes into the half.
The Gamecocks led by nine with 7:38 left and by 11 with 6:32 left. South Carolina stopped turning the ball over, making it hard for Arkansas to get up-and-down the floor for easy transition buckets. USC pushed the tempo, they were the ones creating offense off of defense, they were the aggressor. They were doing all the things that Arkansas did in the first half to build their lead.
At the final media timeout, with 3:53 left, the Gamecock lead was five, 73-68. The tables turned on South Carolina shortly after this. Arkansas had reduced the lead to three and then heartbreak struck. With 2:29 left, senior point guard Tyrone Johnson, who finished with a team-high 18 points, went down with some mixture of a knee injury and cramps. Teammates Michael Carerra and Laimonas Chatkevicius carried the leader off the floor as the crowd rose for a standing ovation. Arkansas was in the midst of a 14-3 run and eventually look a 74-73 lead with 1:12 left. A Bobby Portis tip-in moved their lead to 76-73 with just one possession left to play. With no timeouts left and just seconds to play, Sindarius Thornwell jumped to heave a tying three and was fouled by Arkansas' Michael Qualls. It appeared to be a three but it wasn't. On closer examination of the replay, it was ruled that Thornwell's foot was on the line, causing him to go to the line for just two shots. The correct call occured and Sin stepped to the line, making the first. He deliberately missed the second but USC could not come up with the rebound. Arkansas iced the game with free throws and escaped Columbia with their first win at South Carolina since 2001.
Once again, a scoring drought in the second half doomed the Gamecocks. In the final 7:20, South Carolina made one field goal, a Chatkevicius layup with 4:14 left to play. Chat's lay-in and Sin's made free throw were the only USC points in the those seven minutes and 20 seconds. Meanwhile, Arkansas scored 18 points to rip the win away. The Gamecocks scored 33 points in the first 12 minutes and 40 seconds of the second half but just three in the last 7:20. Also, South Carolina had been 8-of-8 from the line at one point but missed three consecutive free throw attempts down the stretch.
South Carolina finished with 16 turnovers that turned into 29 Arkansas points, slightly worse than their 20 turnovers for 21 Razorback points at Arkansas in January. Duane Notice finished with 16 points after a strong second half and Michael Carrera added 14 points and nine rebounds.
South Carolina has one regular season game left. After tonight they are officially locked into a Wednesday game in the SEC Tournament. Wednesday features the SEC's 11th place team vs. the 14th place team and the 12th vs. the 13th. Currently, USC is slated to play Missouri in the 11-14 game. The regular season finale is Saturday at 4 p.m. ET against Tennessee in Knoxville. A loss would give South Carolina their sixth consecutive losing season, a first for the program.