USC survives scare, downs Arkansas in OT

Playing host to the team tied for the worst record in the SEC, the Gamecocks were supposed to make easy work of Arkansas. Instead, Carolina (19-6, 8-4 SEC) and Arkansas (13-12, 1-11 SEC) went into overtime, and the Gamecocks had to sweat out a narrow 82-78 win.


"I guess we're not going to be boring for anybody," said Darrin Horn. "We found a way to win in a game that didn't have a lot of flow, that maybe we weren't our best. We had a lot of different guys step up."

South Carolina led by as many as 11 in the first half, and frequently appeared poised to take control of the game. Leading 21-13 with 6:41 to play in the half, the Gamecocks appeared to catch a break when Arkansas' starting point guard Courtney Fortson fell to the court with an injured ankle. Fortson tried to return, but was unable to play effectively until midway through the second half. Instead of folding, the Razorbacks rallied and outplayed Carolina the rest of the half, going into the locker room down 30-26.

The second half was a back and forth game that saw five lead changes and five ties. Fortson came up big late in the game for Arkansas, putting the Hogs up 66-64 on a putback with 59 seconds left. Dominique Archie tied the game for Carolina on a putback with 30.9 seconds.

"Dominique was not very good tonight; I think he'd be the first to tell you that, on the offensive side of the ball" said Horn. "But he kept fighting and he kept playing hard and late he made some plays like that that really matter."

"For a long time our defense was good," said Arkansas coach John Pelphrey. "In the last ten minutes they just put it down and really attacked us. I think everybody is struggling in the long haul to keep those guys in front."

Both teams got a shot at a game winner, but Fortson had the ball stripped from behind by Devan Downey, and Zam Fredrick missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.

In overtime, the Gamecocks corrected two of their problems. Arkansas dominated the glass 46-29 for the game, but was unable to take advantage in overtime, when USC seemed to get all the key rebounds. Carolina also made all six of its free throw attempts to ice the game. Up one, Fredrick drew a foul and sank both free throws to lead 80-77 with four seconds left. Although the move was not intentional, Downey fouled Arkansas' Jason Henry, who scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

"He was trying to keep the kid in front and then fouled him," Horn said. "We did not say to foul. ‘It's okay to, we don't want to give up the three,' was the message."

Henry made the first free throw, and tried to intentionally miss the second. However, the Razorbacks committed a lane violation on the attempt, and Carolina got the ball back. Downey sank two more free throws to provide the final margin. Even though the game was tighter than expected, Horn said he has no complaints about getting another conference victory.

"It's a win in February in league play," he said. "That's what you're trying to do."

Downey finished with 25 points, two assists, and four steals. Evka Baniulis added 14 points and 7 rebounds off the bench. Fredrick had 12 points and four assists, and Mike Holmes and Archie had solid nights in the lane (11 points and 8 boards, 8 points and 6 boards respectively).

While the Razorbacks dominated on the glass, the Gamecocks forced 25 turnovers to even things out. Fortson committed 10 turnovers by himself, many coming while he was trying to come back from his injury. Michael Washington also had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Notes:

- Branden Conrad dressed but did not play for Carolina.

The Gamecocks also made up for the poor rebounding at the charity stripe, where they shot 20-26, 76.9%. Arkansas was 9-16 (56.3%).

- The Gamecocks have guaranteed themselves of finishing at least .500 in the SEC. The last time that happened was 2004, when Carolina made the NCAA Tournament. Horn has also equaled former coach Dave Odom's best SEC record (in 2004).

- Kentucky beat Tennessee 77-58 and Florida beat Vanderbilt 82-68 on Saturday. Carolina is now in a three-way tie for first in the SEC East at 8-4. Carolina and Kentucky play Wednesday night at 7:00 in Columbia.

- Announced attendance was 16,507.

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