FAYETTEVILLE – The South Carolina Gamecocks have won where they weren’t supposed to at Virginia, at Clemson and at Kentucky.
Now make that at Arkansas, too.
Despite Mason Jones posting an Arkansas 34 points and 12 rebounds double-double, the Gamecocks won Wednesday night’s SEC game, 79-77 over the Razorbacks at Walton Arena.
The upset upped the Gamecocks to 12-8 overall, 4-3 in the SEC and dropped Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks to 15-5, 3-4 in the SEC with three consecutive SEC losses going into Saturday’s SEC game at Alabama.
Arkansas had the ball down 79-77 in the game’s final 26 seconds.
Coach Frank Martin’s Gamecocks thwarted Musselman’s intentions for Jones to get a foul-drawing shot. With Jones blanketed, the Hogs finally to settle for Desi Sills passing to Isaiah Joe for a hastily missed three from the corner just before the final buzzer.
“We were just running a play to get me the ball but the South Carolina coach played good defense,” Jones said. “He knew they were going to try to run play for me and denied me the ball and Desi kept it and he threw it to Zay. It wasn’t the best shot, but it was the best shot we could get with the time running down. Desi made the right play. Normally Isaiah can make shots like that and it just hit on the right and the game was over. It was as simple as that.”
Musselman was asked his assessment.
““We have a 3-point shooter get a look to try and win the game,” Musselman said. “It was to go to Mason and Mason was denied.m If Mason would have caught it, we didn’t have to get a 3. We ran an isolation for him and he has done such a good job of drawing fouls and converting. Obviously we all go back and dissect that.”
Denying Jones those last 26 seconds was about all that Jones was denied in Martin’s view.
“Mason Jones was ridiculous!” Martin said. “God is he good! I mean, I have a lot of respect for that young man. Just a heck of a win.”
Jones paid respects to the Gamecocks who led throughout save for one 40-40 tie that Jones achieved with an and-one 3-point play at 18:38 of the second half.
“You know South Carolina came out with great energy,” Jones said. “They got the momentum and they didn’t look back. You’ve got to give props to South Carolina coming in here to Bud Walton and getting a win. That’s hard to do with the best fans that we’ve got. We’ve just got to recuperate and get ready for Alabama.”
Coming off a knee injury sidelining him from Arkansas’ victory over TCU last Saturday, sophomore guard Joe of Fort Smith Northside was Arkansas’ second leading scorer Wednesday tallying 16 points off the bench.
AJ Lawson led the Gamecocks scoring 19 with big help from the bench. Frank Martin employed 10 Gamecocks got 37 bench points including 11 and 12 points from reserves Trae Hannibal and Jair Bolden.
Maik Kotsar, the Gamecocks’ 6-11 center scored 10 points with nine rebounds.
Arkansas never led but came back from down 10 during the first half to tie it 40-40 on a Jones 3-point play at 18:38 of the second half.
South Carolina jumped ahead and the Razorbacks never caught up.
Known as frequent foulers, the Gamecocks were whistled 33 times. That allowed 40 Arkansas free throws which would have increased had the Hogs not missed the front ends of one and ones. but other than Jones, 15 of 16, the rest of the Razorbacks were only 11 of 24 from the free throw line for 27 for 40 while South Carolina only made 17 of 33.
“You can’t leave that many points on the line against a good defensive team,” Musselman said.
Or gift South Carolina two more points with a second half technical called on the Arkansas bench.
“Hays Meyers (listed as a special assistant) got the technical,” Musselman said. “A staff member. Not happy at all. You lose by two at home in a game that has got extreme significance and a staff member gets a technical. The only person that needs to talk to the referees is me and me only. “I don’t think it is what he said, I think it is because he stood up or something.”
The missed free throws all figured in the missed opportunities negating Arkansas, badly outrebounded much of this season, profiting from its best rebounding game. Martin’s teams are known for erasing the boards but Arkansas broke even 36-36.
“ It is the one night in SEC play that we have held our own on the glass and actually had more offensive rebounds than they do,” Musselman said. “But when you leave points on the board like we did from the foul line.”
The Razorbacks trailed, 38-32 at halftime and were fortunate doing so.
Given their abysmal start it could have been been much worse.
At 15:40 the Hogs had committed more turnovers, three, than made shots, 0 for 6, but only trailed, 6-0.
Finally the Hogs scored off their defense with a Jones steal and layup to trail, 6-2 at 15:18.
The Gamecocks twice peaked their lead at 10, 22-12 and 38-28 with Arkansas repeatedly cutting it to six including the 38-32 intermission.
After Jones’ made it 40-40, the Razorbacks trailed by as much as nine and came back to within one.
Gamecocks always answered.
“Every time we thought we were going to go on a run they made a big shot or they got a foul or some big momentum play came their way,”Jones said. “They made big plays when they needed it. You’ve got to give props where props are due.”
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action