It was a Senior Day for Arkansas that won’t be forgotten, but for many of the wrong reasons.
South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell scored 15 of his 22 points in the opening half, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 6 assists as the Gamecocks came out of halftime on a 15-2 run and downed the Razorbacks 76-61 Saturday before 14,548 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"Tough day at the office," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "First of all, congratulations to (South Carolina head) Coach Frank Martin and his team. I thought he had them prepared. They had a man down, but I thought they had some guys step up for them. They were the more agggressive team. I thought they were the more physical team and it was on display on the rebounding and on the effort plays, loose balls.
"Senior Days can go one way or the other. You are emotionally charged up and you either come out and really play at a high level or you come out and you are flat. I thought our guys were real anxious and you saw us miss a lot of lay ups or defensive assignments, where we were a step slow."
Duane Notice added 15 as South Carolina (24-7, 11-7) - playing without leading scorer and rebounder Michael Carrera - clinched the SEC Tournament's third seed and once led by 27 points in the second half after taking a 36-24 lead to intermission.
South Carolina had a 27-10 rebounding edge in the first half and ended up with a 41-26 board advantage in handing Arkansas its fifth home loss this season - one was in North Little Rock - while dropping Anderson's home mark to 79-11 at Bud Walton Arena.
"In a league like ours where winning on the road is the hardest thing to do compared to any other league in the country, for us to be able to win four league games on the road, I believe that we tied Kentucky for the second-most league wins on the road," Martin said. "To be able to do it in this building against a very good Arkansas team is great."
Martin followed Anderson from the Big 12 to the SEC so the coaches know a lot about each other.
"...Mike might be the most underrated spoken about, unbelieveably successful head coach in the country," Martin said. "The job that he consistently does to get his kids to win. He has won league titles, he has been to Elite Eights, it's just the way that he has kept these kids together and got them to a place to where they have become real good at the end of the year says a lot about them, which makes this even more of a bigger win.
"And for us to be able to do it on a short turn after a very taxing loss against Georgia - and one that hurt our guys a lot - says a lot about the character, the courage and the commitment that these guys have put in to make us a pretty good basketball team.
"It's six months of work. We didn't win this game today, we won this game the last three years. Every single day, having the courage to come back after tough losses and the way we practiced in the off-season. I'm not saying we do it better than anybody. I'm just saying I know how hard these guys work."
The Gamecocks - who spent 17 weeks in the Top 25 before falling out - raced out to a 56-29 lead when Laimonus Chatkevicius hit a jumper with15:04 left in the game.
Arkansas (16-15, 9-9) - who spoiled Alabama's Senior Day earlier this week and had won four straight games - cut it to nine on a few occasions, but couldn’t get any closer.
"Things just kind of went south at that point," Anderson said of his team's play right after halftime. "We cut a 24 or something point lead and cut it to nine from like the 10-minute mark to the five, but I think as we got to that point our guys were spent. They spent a lot of energy trying to catch up. Trying to go uphill and South Carolina went to the free throw line to finish things off."
Dusty Hannahs and Anthlon Bell had 16 points each to lead the Razorbacks while Moses Kingsley had 13 points and 7 rebounds.
Bell, Jabril Durham, Keaton Miles and Willy Kouassi were seniors playing in their regular season home finale.
"Disappointed for our seniors, but as I told those guys in the locker room, you guys gave us everything you had and just ran out of time today," Anderson said. "Through the year we have had a lot of ups and downs and we were on the upswing. I am sure it is disappointing for those guys because it was their last game here in Bud Walton Arena. But it wasn't because they didn't try."
Bell wants to forget about the loss and move on to the SEC Tournament.
"This isn't a horrible loss emotionally, but it is just another game we let slip," Bell said. "We just have to get ready for the SEC Tournament and get ready to work anf go hard there.
Arkansas shot 7-of-25 from the field in a frigid first half and were 14-of-29 in the second half, but the 27-point margin was too deep a hole to dig out of on Saturday.
"I feel like we were playing on our toes a little bit, playing a little anxious with a lot of emotion," Durham said. "So it kind of started us off on the wrong foot so we were playing on our heels from the get-go. We have to give credit to them. They played phyiscal and that was probably the most physical defensive team that we have played all year for sure. That is a credit to Coach Frank Martin. He has been around a long time and knows what he is doing."
The Razorbacks were just 11-of-21 at the free throw line with Kingsley - a 75 percent free throw shooter earlier in the season - continued a string of recent woes from the charity stripe by going just 3-of-10 on Saturday.
"You can't surmount any kind of a charge on a team when you don't make free throws," Anderson said. "We missed a lot of one-and-ones. We have spent many, many times shooting free throws. That is something personal and guys have got to make them. He is always a guy that is getting fouled and he was shooting so well at one point in time. You have got to put free throws in in order to get back into your defense.
"We had that going against us, rebounding going against us, we didn't shoot the ball well so really we are fortunate it ended up like it did."
The two teams will now move on to next week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville where Arkansas will be the ninth seed and play Thursday at noon against eighth-seeded Florida.
South Carolina is the third seed, has a double bye and won't play until Friday.
"We go on to the next season, which is the postseason," Anderson said. "It is a one-game season. It is the SEC Tournament and there is one automatic qualifer for the SEC Tournament and that is going to be our goal. It is one game at a time and we will get ready for whoever we are going to play on Thursday."
South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell and Arkansas' Moses Kingsley battle for a loose ball.
Jabril Durham reacts with disbelief to a call that went against Arkansas as Razorback head coach Mike Anderson looks on.