There’s the known story to South Carolina’s win over Arkansas — a couple of freshmen were really good in the biggest of moments — and then there’s the mystery component to why Keyshawn Bryant and A.J. Lawson dominated down the stretch of USC’s 77-65 victory Saturday.
“If he starts doing something, I gotta start doing something,” Bryant said of his classmate. “But it was actually something said to us in the huddle, that I can’t really discuss, which made us want to go out there and play even harder.”
Who said it? Frank Martin? Another Gamecock player? One of the former players who sat courtside at Colonial Life Arena?
“I’m not going to say who said it,” Bryant responded with a grin.
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No matter the source — or the language used by the source — it worked in USC’s favor. The Gamecocks (12-11 overall) are now 7-3 in the SEC thanks to a combined 31 second half points by a couple talented rookies.
“I’ve learned from those two young kids,” Martin said. “They’re both real good basketball players.”
Arkansas (14-9, 5-5) led this game by four at halftime and by 13 with 15:37 left in the second half. Lawson, who led all scorers with 24, was steady throughout the night, but it was the assistance he got from his roommate that was the difference in USC’s fifth home win in six tries.
Had the Gamecocks had more depth, Martin said, he likely would have sat Bryant during the second half. The high-flying Floridian’s early play was reflective of USC’s general sloppiness against the Razorbacks. He had two first half points and committed three of Carolina’s 15 first half turnovers.
It was all ugly until it was beautiful.
Two of Bryant’s 15 second half points came from a Lawson-delivered alley-oop that capped a 22-4 run and put the Gamecocks up five with 8:47 left and whipped the 12,374 at CLA into a frenzy.
“Keyshawn was sped-up,” Martin said of Bryant’s early struggles. “The way they play, they got him thinking that he can play faster than he’s capable of playing and got himself in trouble.
“But give that young man credit. He made some big-time (plays).”
Arkansas, which finished with 21 takeaways, went on a 7-0 run to retake the lead at the 6:02 mark. But Bryant made Carolina’s next two buckets to create the game’s fourth and final tie.
USC then closed the game on a 14-2 run — eight points coming from Chris Silva, four from Bryant and two from Lawson.
“Chris had two big-time post-ups where we executed what we called,” Martin said. “Big-time post-ups into big-time finishes over Daniel Gafford. Those are hard shots. And he made them both.
“It was fun for us to stay the course for 40 minutes there.”
Added Arkansas coach Mike Anderson: “This time of year it’s about energy. They had enough in the tank to finish it out.”
South Carolina scored 46 second half points, its most in an SEC game this season. This came four days after totaling 48 in a loss at Kentucky.
Prior to Saturday’s tip, Martin voiced his concerns about the randomness to Arkansas’ defense. The Razorbacks weren’t a threat in the way Kentucky was to USC a game earlier. Instead of physicality, Arkansas presented a mystery. The Hogs would press, trap and zone, affecting an offense’s flow.
That all proved true in the first half as the Gamecocks were out of whack in their sets. Yet, they only trailed 35-31 as Gafford, an All-SEC forward, logged just five minutes because of foul trouble.
Gafford came back in the second half and the Hogs ran out to a 50-37 advantage less than five minutes in.
“We had to stay confident,” Lawson said, “keep pushing through, cut it down bit by bit.”
Lawson got the rally rolling with back-to-back corner 3-pointers. The Gamecocks shot 66 percent from beyond the arc, nearly matching their sizzling performance at Georgia last Saturday.
“We left them open,” Anderson said. “We were playing some zone. We had some assignments where we didn’t get out there. When you’re wide open, you’re going to knock them down. I think most teams in our league, if you leave them open, they’re going to make shots.”
Silva was USC’s other double-digit scorer with 16 points. Jalen Harris led Arkansas with 17.
The Gamecocks next travel to face No. 1 Tennessee on Wednesday.
SOUTH CAROLINA 77, ARKANSAS 65
Bailey 2-4 2-2 6, Gafford 4-5 0-1 8, Harris 5-16 7-10 17, Jones 4-9 4-5 15, Joe 4-11 0-0 11, Chaney 1-2 2-2 4, Osabuohien 0-3 0-0 0, Embery 2-6 0-0 4, Sills 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-57 15-20 65.
SOUTH CAROLINA (12-11)
Kotsar 2-6 0-0 4, Bryant 7-11 2-7 17, Silva 4-5 8-10 16, Lawson 8-12 4-5 24, Campbell 1-6 1-2 4, Haase 1-2 0-0 3, Frink 0-0 0-0 0, Hinson 0-0 0-0 0, Gravett 3-6 0-0 9. Totals 26-48 15-24 77.
Halftime: Arkansas 35-31. 3-Point Goals: Arkansas 6-22 (Jones 3-6, Joe 3-9, Bailey 0-1, Osabuohien 0-1, Harris 0-2, Embery 0-3), South Carolina 10-15 (Lawson 4-5, Gravett 3-4, Haase 1-1, Bryant 1-2, Campbell 1-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds: Arkansas 27 (Bailey 6), South Carolina 33 (Silva 8). Assists: Arkansas 11 (Jones 4), South Carolina 15 (Lawson, Haase, Campbell, Gravett 3). Total Fouls: Arkansas 18, South Carolina 19. A: 12,374 (18,000).
Who: South Carolina at Tennessee
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena
TV: SEC Network