South Carolina opened the SEC Tournament with Western Division foe Arkansas (19-12) at the Georgia Dome in what started as an even battle but finished as an 82-52 beating.
"Clearly the better team won today," USC coach Dave Odom said. "We did not shoot the ball well. Certainly Arkansas's defense was outstanding, but I do think we got an awful lot of open jumpers that did not go."
USC opened the game with a 3-0 lead off a Bryce Sheldon shot to take their largest lead of the game. Arkansas tied things up on the following possession and it was a seesaw affair from there for the early part of the game.
Carolina's last lead would come at the 8:27 mark in the first half off of a Brandon Wallace dunk to put the Gamecocks up 18-16.
From there a three minute scoring drought ensued, as Arkansas built their lead to seven points before Sheldon made a lay-up with :28 left in the half.
"They just tried to go with size on me," Kelley said. "I got to the basket a lot and tried to create for my teammates and they made some shots. But we didn't make enough tonight and it cost us."
The Gamecocks managed to get within two at the 17:35 mark, pulling the game to within 32-34. That would be as close as it would get, as the
Hogs held Carolina scoreless for a nearly five minute stretch of the second half and pushed their lead to 22 points.
"I think as the game wore on, Arkansas gained more confidence from the fact that we were not shooting the ball well and they recognized very well that out inside postmen strength was depleted," Odom said.
Wallace, who led the team with 16 points and 15 rebounds, was forced to be the only effective post presence for the Gamecocks after freshman forward Dominique Archie was forced to the sidelines from a knee injury sustained in the first half.
"With about four minutes to go, coach asked us if we wanted to finish and we said definitely. We're going to hang this one out. We're going to go out and give it all we've got for these last four minutes," Wallace said. "And I think that's how we did all year and our whole careers. We kept fighting, despite the odds."
A lackluster defense, including 40 points allowed in the paint and only forcing four turnovers (none in the second half), allowed Arkansas to control the tempo of the game.
"We did work on the press this quite a bit this week hoping we could get them to turn the ball over a little bit, but did handle it very well," Odom said.
With the two star players in Wallace and Kelley graduating, Odom hoped that their past accomplishments would shine brighter than one season's finish.
"I don't know if I've ever coached two guys, two players, two gentleman who have committed more to a program, who have been better to work with, who have given more and asked less than Brandon Wallace and Tre' Kelley," Odom said. "They played their last game today in a Gamecock uniform and I told them and our team their contribution to
Gamecock basketball will go on forever."
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