Despite overcoming an 11-point halftime deficit late in the second half, South Carolina (10-16, 3-10 SEC) was unable to claim a lead in the final 20 minutes as they fell 71-64 to Arkansas (17-9, 6-7 SEC) at Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday night.
Carolina senior guard Brenton Williams led all scorers with 29 points on 6-of-13 shooting beyond the arc. The Razorbacks got 20 points and eight rebounds from Michael Qualls, and 12 points and 12 rebounds from Coty Clarke.
After the first 10 minutes of the half was back-and-forth, Arkansas opened up a four-point lead behind a 3-pointer for Kikko Haydar that made it 20-16. Williams responded with a 3 of his own for the Gamecocks, but Qualls quickly followed that up on the other end with a 3 for the Razorbacks as the tempo began to speed up.
Williams scored the fourth consecutive 3 in the game between the two teams to bring Carolina back within one. The senior then scored a layup on the break after a Razorback turnover, but Arkansas took control of the half from that point, going on a 20-2 run as the constant pressure began to wear on the Gamecocks.
Williams closed the half on his own 6-0 run for Carolina over the final 1:15, finishing the half with 16 of the Gamecocks 29 points. The Razorbacks took a 40-29 lead into the break as they shot 53.8 percent (14-26) from the field compared to South Carolina, which shot 33.3 percent (10-13).
The Gamecocks continued their run into the second half with nine more unanswered points to bring the deficit to two. The run concluded with a back-to-back 3s from freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell and sophomore forward Brian Steele. For Thornwell, Carolina’s leading scorer entering the game, it was his first points of the contest after going 0-for-4 in the first half.
Momentum quickly shifted though as a steal by Thornwell led to a run-out for the Williams, but as he went up for the dunk, Bobby Portis blocked him from behind. A fast break for the Razorbacks ensued and missed layup was followed up by a dunk from Qualls. A minute and a half later, with a four-point Arkansas lead at 44-40, Qualls connected on his third 3 of the game.
Williams, who had been the Gamecocks main scoring threat continued to find open space with the frenetic pace of the game and hit a pair of open 3s from the right side less than two minutes apart to make it a 48-46 game with 11:59 on the clock.
Back down by six at 52-46 with 9:52 remaining in the game, Carolina went on a 9-3 run, with five points coming from Williams, to tie the game at 55-55 after a layup from sophomore forward Laimonas Chatkevicius.
The Razorbacks increased the pressure from there and turned it into a 7-0 run, ignited by a 3 from Qualls, to grab a 62-55 lead with 2:35 left.
Despite a poor shooting game, Thornwell began to force the issue and scored five- straight points to bring the Gamecocks within two with just over a minute and half remaining, but that was as close as they would get. The Razorbacks countered with a 3 from Mardracus Wade to make it 65-60. Arkansas would convert on 5-of-6 free throws in the final 16 seconds to give them the 71-64 win.
Despite holding the Razorbacks to 25 percent shooting (8-32) in the second half and going 12-29 (41.4 percent) themselves in the final 20 minutes, it wasn’t enough for the Gamecocks. Arkansas held a 23-14 advantage in points off turnovers and a 21-7 edge in bench points.
Freshman guard Duane Notice finished the night with nine points for South Carolina. Thornwell and sophomore forward Michael Carrera each added eight points and five rebounds. Thornwell also finished with a team-high five assists.