Hill's Hustle Spurs Razorback Rout

ATLANTA -- Steven Hill tipped the ball away from South Carolina's Dominique Archie and eyed a momentum-boosting play. Up until that point of Arkansas' 82-52 victory over South Carolina in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Hogs had done little to inspire confidence.

They had shown sporadic intensity and had exhibited scarce fight Thursday afternoon in building a 36-32 lead.

But then, after dislodging the ball from Archie, Hill sparked the Razorbacks. He outraced Archie to the loose ball and hurled his 7-foot frame to the Georgia Dome court while tipping it to a streaking Patrick Beverley.

Beverley converted a layup, drawing a foul and injecting instant life into the Hogs.

"I thought that was the play of the game," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "To see a big guy like that lay it out there and dive on the floor ... I didn't think he had much of a chance.

"I do think it gave us a lift as a basketball team. I saw guys jumping up and down and being fired up about it."

The Razorbacks immediately fed off Hill's hustle play. For the remaining 17 minutes of Thursday's victory, Arkansas played arguably its best basketball of the season.

Following Hill's acrobatic assist, the Hogs (19-12) outscored the Gamecocks (14-16) 44-20 and sparked positive thoughts about a possible run to an SEC Tournament championship. They used a combination of suffocating defense, improved shooting and impeccable ball control to overwhelm South Carolina.

"They smelled blood, so to speak," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said.

They won their third consecutive game for the first time since early January. But earlier, as Arkansas sputtered through the first half, advancing to today's second round seemed in question.

The Hogs started 4-of-5 from the field but then missed 15 of their next 20 attempts. If they hadn't turned the ball over just four times in the opening 20 minutes, they may not have enjoyed a seven-point halftime lead.

But, in the second half, Arkansas looked like a different team, like a squad that possesses a realistic chance at staying in Atlanta throughout the weekend.

Sonny Weems and Stefan Welsh continued their harassment of South Carolina's Tre Kelley, who finished with just 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. And, most importantly, Arkansas persisted in taking care of the ball at unprecedented levels.

The Hogs didn't commit any turnovers in the second half. Their total of four was the second-lowest in SEC Tournament history. Their previous low this season was 11.

"Coming into this game, Coach just told us if we can control the basketball, we'll win the game," Arkansas point guard Gary Ervin said. "Every time we don't turn the ball over, we win."

It didn't hurt, either, that Arkansas drained 12 consecutive shots at one point in the second half.

That 10-minute spurt, which began shortly after Hill's game-changing steal and flick, was a flawless exhibition of offense.

Michael Washington's dunk started the run. Darian Townes had four dunks and Patrick Beverley and Stefan Welsh each drained a 3-pointer during it. Through it all, Townes had one thought stuck in his mind.

"Just keep pushing the lead up more and more," Townes said.

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