It was one tiny play in a game full of plays. It shouldn’t have meant that much.
Chris Silva’s second foul with 15 minutes to play in the first half opened the floodgates and Arkansas held on for an 83-76 win over No. 21 South Carolina on Wednesday. It was the Hogs’ first road win over a Top 25 opponent in nearly three years and once again has USC palms hovering over the panic button.
“To play the way we play, you have to play with unbelievable enthusiasm, toughness, discipline. We’ve done that for most of the year. We have not done that here of late,” USC coach Frank Martin said. “It’s unfortunate that somehow we’ve lost the one thing we control. Which is our mojo, our enthusiasm for what we do.”
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The Gamecocks are still in great shape to make the NCAA Tournament, taking an RPI of 21 into the game and losing to a team with an RPI of 48. But it was their second loss in three games, it cost them first place in the SEC and, like all losses this time of year, re-opened Pandora’s box.
USC frittered away an NCAA Tournament berth last year due in part to going 3-3 to finish the regular season. Wednesday was an 0-1 start to the final six-game stretch, losing to the team that coughed up a loss to league-worst Missouri.
When Martin revealed he walked out of practice Monday, just the second time in 33 years, because he was about to be “negative,” the loss cast an ominous shadow. Martin declared that if he was still playing, this problem would be fixed tomorrow.
But he’s not, and he didn’t know how it could be fixed.
“It’s our spirit, our mindset has not been good,” he said. “We have to regain that. We have to absolutely regain that.”
The Gamecocks (20-6, 10-3 SEC) were doing whatever they wanted as they rolled to a 14-5 lead. Silva’s second foul happened at 15:46, but USC scored the next five points without him. No big deal.
It became one.
The Razorbacks (19-7, 8-5) couldn’t miss, embarking on a 25-2 run. Dusty Hannahs was burning 3s and Jaylen Barford (11.2 average) scored 17 in the first half.
The Gamecocks’ defense allowed the third of four opponents to shoot at least 49 percent (53.6). Its 3-point defense, still No. 1 in the country despite giving up 19 3s to Alabama and Mississippi State, allowed 7 of 14 to Arkansas.
“I’ve just got to try to stay in the game,” Silva said. “The fouls just prevent me from being a help to my team and doing my job the way I’m supposed to do it.”
“Every one of his fouls is irrelevant. Four of his five fouls today are just bad basketball plays by him,” Martin said. “Biggest part of being a good player is not making the same mistake over and over again.”
The Gamecocks cut it to one point with 30 seconds to go and forced Arkansas to use nearly all of the shot clock. Manuale Watkins threw up a prayer that hit off the glass, bounced twice on the rim and fell through.
“The basketball gods was with him,” Sindarius Thornwell sighed.
Thornwell scored 27, but the Gamecocks’ bench had eight, part of 19 over the past three games. Barford tied his career-high with 23, the third consecutive “who’s that?” player to torch USC.
Thornwell spoke of USC’s veterans taking charge, to not let one loss become two. Martin concurred.
“It’s not a one-man problem,” he said. “There’s a lot of hands going up in that locker room right now.”
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Kingsley 5-9 6-7 16, Bailey 0-1 0-0 0, Hannahs 8-14 0-0 20, Barford 9-17 3-3 23, Watkins 3-4 0-0 6, Thomas 1-4 0-0 2, Thompson 1-1 1-2 3, Cook 0-0 0-0 0, Beard 0-0 0-0 0, Macon 3-6 6-6 13. Totals 30-56 16-18 83.
SOUTH CAROLINA (20-6)
Kotsar 1-2 0-0 2, Silva 6-9 4-6 16, Dozier 4-12 0-0 9, Thornwell 10-20 5-5 27, Notice 5-9 3-4 14, Keita 0-0 0-0 0, Gueye 0-1 0-0 0, Gravett 0-3 0-0 0, Felder 1-4 2-2 5, McKie 1-4 0-0 3, Blanton 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-65 14-17 76.
Halftime: Arkansas 39-32. 3-Point Goals: Arkansas 7-14 (Hannahs 4-7, Barford 2-4, Macon 1-2, Thomas 0-1), South Carolina 6-22 (Thornwell 2-5, Felder 1-3, McKie 1-3, Notice 1-4, Dozier 1-5, Gravett 0-2). Fouled Out: Silva, Thomas. Rebounds: Arkansas 27 (Kingsley 7), South Carolina 27 (Silva 8). Assists: Arkansas 11 (Thompson 3), South Carolina 15 (Dozier 6). Total Fouls: Arkansas 19, South Carolina 18.