Hogs' gritty effort a page out of Martin's book

Posted: February 16, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

South Carolina forward Chris Silva, left, with Sindarius Thornwell (0), grabs a rebound against Arkansas forward Adrio Bailey (2) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

If the NCAA Tournament selection committee was watching Wednesday night, the Arkansas Razorbacks should have impressed enough to get back on the bubble.

On the road, against one of the best defenses in the country, the Hogs were the better team and won over No. 21 South Carolina 83-76, a team that is positioned well for March Madness.

The Razorbacks team that lost at Missouri and to Vanderbilt was nowhere to be found Wednesday. It played hard for 40 minutes, not letting runs by the Gamecocks shock or scare it, answering each with bigger and better runs.

Arkansas fell behind 19-5 after shooting 2 of 8 from the floor, but Dusty Hannahs -- who twice kick-started runs -- got the Razorbacks going with back-to-back threes. Hannahs coupled with Jaylen Barford playing like he wasn't being guarded -- he finished with 17 first-half points and 23 for the game -- allowed the Razorbacks to counter an early 14-0 Gamecocks run with a 23-2 surge of their own.

In the second half, the Gamecocks closed a 12-point deficit to 55-54 before Hannahs reeled off nine straight points.

It was a team effort, and in both halves the Hogs spread out South Carolina's defense and burned it with deep threes that opened the middle for Moses Kingsley, who had 16 points.

Daryl Macon set the final score with four free throws in the final 17 seconds, but Arkansas beat South Carolina at its own game with hustle and stiff defense.

Gamecocks Coach Frank Martin can identify with one of Nolan Richardson's favorite phrases about a bumpy ride being better than a smooth walk, because Martin's climb to South Carolina has been anything but smooth.

Martin was born in Miami, his parents both Cuban political exiles. He spent time as a bouncer, but a shooting at the club sent him out of the nightlife and into coaching. He spent eight years as an assistant high school coach -- honing his skills and knowledge while coaching AAU basketball in the summers -- and five as a high school head coach before becoming recruiting coordinator at Northeastern University in Boston.

Martin then hooked up with Bob Huggins at Cincinnati and followed him to Kansas State, where he helped recruit star player Michael Beasley, who played for six different high schools and in AAU ball with Kevin Durant.

When Huggins left for West Virginia, Martin inherited the job. He was named Big 12 Coach of the Year once and guided the Wildcats to an Elite Eight, but when South Carolina called he wasted no time in hiring movers and getting his family out of Manhattan, which is not exactly a vacation destination.

His first two seasons at South Carolina were forgettable, but improvement was evident.

Saying Martin is fiery would be like saying Nick Saban relishes control. In 2014, he issued a public apology for the way he verbally undressed his team. While he's no longer quite as vocal, the intensity is obvious.

Last season, the Gamecocks were 25-9 and 11-7 in SEC play, which earned him a five-year contract extension and a raise to $2.4 million a year. But a 15-0 start gave way to a 9-8 close to the season. The NCAA passed on the Gamecocks, who won one game in the NIT before bowing out 83-66 to Georgia Tech.

That's not going to happen this season. The Gamecocks had won 10 of 12 until last night.

South Carolina hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since Dave Odom was the coach in 2004. The body of work this season has been impressive, and the Arkansas win helps the Hogs' hopes.

Sports on 02/16/2017