South Carolina closed their most successful regular season in years on Saturday night. The Gamecocks went on the road in their season finale and defeated Arkansas, 76-61, despite having senior Michael Carrera sidelined with a hip injury.
While this team has had one of the better years in this program's history, it has had two big weaknesses this season: road trips and perimeter defense. They would have to go toe-to-toe with both of those issues when they took on the Razorbacks. Arkansas boasted the second best offense in the SEC and the best three-point shooting percentage in the conference.
From Fayetteville, South Carolina did not let the road environment effect them like it had all season long and the Razorbacks' perimeter scoring didn't come into play until it was too late.
Both teams battled throughout the opening 10 minutes of Saturday's bout as the lead changed five times with four ties. USC's defense went into full lockdown mode as they broke the game open late in the first half. South Carolina's 15-2 run gave the Gamecocks a large advantage. During their run, Frank Martin's pressurized defense held Arkansas scoreless for five minutes.
During the run, the Razorbacks missed nine shots and the Gamecocks owned the boards, neutralizing the nine turnovers that could have turned the game to Arkansas. USC held a 12-point lead at the break.
With the third seed in next week's SEC Tournament on the line, Martin and Co. was not letting up. With a double-digit lead exiting halftime, South Carolina brought out a press against Arkansas. For the second time in the game, defense was leading to offense for the Gamecocks. Early on, USC scored 10 points off five turnovers. They outscored the Razorbacks 20-5 through the first six minutes of the second half thanks to seven consecutive field goals in a three-minute span.
Arkansas made a run late in the second half as USC's ugly perimeter defense showed its face. South Carolina had built their lead to 27 at one point but the Razorbacks trimmed it all the way down to nine after hitting five second-half 3-pointers. With four minutes left, Arkansas was back to a single-digit deficit. But, South Carolina would not allow the home team to score for the rest of the night.
Sindarius Thornwell displayed one of his best performances of the season, submitting 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. USC's first win at Arkansas since 2008 captured their 24th win over the season, the most since 1997, and their 11th conference win of the year, their most since 1998.
The Gamecocks now hold the third-seed in next week's SEC Tournament. They will play the winner of Georgia and Mississippi State in Friday's quarterfinal round.