Sunday, January 27, 2013

Huge First Half Run Propels South Carolina to Big Win over Arkansas

Entering Saturday's contest vs. the Razorbacks, the Gamecocks were looking to get their first SEC home win of the season. More importantly, South Carolina was trying to stem the tide of close games they have played in conference all season. They had played five games, all decided by single digit margins. One game was decided in overtime, their sole conference win at the time over LSU. The Gamecocks had late second half leads in three games, only to lose all of those games - Mississippi State, Auburn and Missouri. And in the fifth game, South Carolina trailed Vanderbilt by two, 51-49 with a little more than a minute left before losing by seven points.
Their opponent, Arkansas, entered the game faring somewhat better, having won three of their first five conference games, all at home. In their three home SEC wins over Auburn, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks average margin of victory was nineteen points. However in their two road losses to Ole Miss and Texas A&M, Arkansas lost each game by double digits. You figured maybe something had to give yesterday.

After a wonderful rendition of the national anthem by a local fourth grade school chorus, at the start of the game, it looked like the Gamecocks were the ones giving. The Razorbacks rolled out to a 15-3 lead in the first four and a half minutes, due in large part to junior guard Rickey Scott, who scored eight points in the run, three more than his season average. After Scott buried a three to put Arkansas up by twelve, South Carolina coach Frank Martin had no choice but to call timeout with 15:39 left in the first half.

Whatever he said in that timeout must have resonated with his team. Over the span of the next
five and half minutes, the Gamecocks went on a 13-0 run. South Carolina forced three turnovers in that span and when Michael Carrera hit a jumper to give the Gamecocks a 17-16 lead with ten minutes left, the nearly eleven thousand fans in attendance at Colonial Life Arena roared in approval.

When Arkansas regained the lead, 18-17 on a layup by the Razorbacks leading scorer on the season, B.J. Young, it seemed like we had another close SEC contest. It made sense, considering all the close games that the Gamecocks had played on the season.

But South Carolina was far from done. Over the next six plus minutes, the Gamecocks outscored the Razorbacks 19-2. They accomplished this with the three pointer, hitting four in that span, including two by Brian Richardson and one by Lakeem Jackson, his second on the season in three attempts. Jackson's jumper ended an overall 32-4 run by South Carolina and gave them a 35-19 lead. It was the second time in a calendar year that I had seen a 32-4 run.

Two three pointers by Bruce Ellington and Eric Smith, whose shot was basically a turnaround shot clock beating prayer, capped a 40-11 onslaught. South Carolina led at the half 43-26. Richardson already had thirteen points in the first half.

The question starting the second half was whether South Carolina could keep down one of the top twenty scoring teams in the country in Arkansas. Within a few minutes of the second half, the answer was yes. The Razorbacks went scoreless over a three minute period and the Gamecocks extended their lead slightly to twenty, 52-32.

Arkansas did have one spurt on them, mainly due to Marshawn Powell, who scored six straight points for the Razorbacks to cut the Gamecocks' lead to twelve, 55-43 with about ten and half minutes left in the game.

But from there, South Carolina responded with a 16-3 spurt over the next five and half minutes. Laimonas Chatekevicius layup capped the run and the Gamecocks were up 71-46 with five minutes left in the game. South Carolina would end up winning 75-54.

The Gamecocks held the Razorbacks to twenty four points under their season scoring average. Arkansas was held to thirty four percent from the field, including a horrid two of sixteen from beyond the arc. Young, who had been averaging over sixteen points per game, was held to seven points on three of twelve shooting. Powell, Arkansas' second leading scorer, led the Razorbacks with twenty two points and thirteen rebounds.

South Carolina shot a blistering fifty seven percent from the field including seven of twelve from beyond the arc. Richardson had a career high twenty points. Ellington added fourteen points and Jackson added eleven points and three assists. Ellington, Jackson and Richardson combined to shoot eighteen of twenty five from the field (seventy two percent).

There was a moment that stood out to me about midway through the second half with the game no longer in doubt.  Carrera was trapped at the wing trying to get the ball to Ellington. After several seconds, Carrera lost the ball. Martin immediately substituted for Carrera. While Carrera was leaving the court, his replacement left either a towel or a warmup shirt by the scorers' table. Martin grabbed the item and fired it down towards the bench. Right afterwards, Martin gave Carrera a talking to about the play, no doubt telling him what he should have done.

What it told me was that in the midst of the Gamecocks' most complete game of the season from both an offensive and defensive standpoint, Martin didn't want his players letting up at any moment. He knows that games like this will be rare in the competitive SEC. His players must be focused and make the right plays at the right time. With only four teams in conference over .500 at the moment, there is an opportunity for the Gamecocks to move up in the standings.

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