Signature victory: Razorbacks beat No. 21 South Carolina

Watkins’ prayer answers need

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

Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford (0) dribbles the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Columbia, S.C. Arkansas defeated South Carolina 83-76. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Desperate for a victory that will resonate with the NCAA Tournament selection committee, the Arkansas Razorbacks brought one home Wednesday night.

Arkansas beat No. 21 South Carolina 83-76 at Colonial Life Arena before an announced crowd of 13,001.

Game Sketch

RECORDS Arkansas 19-7, 8-5 SEC; South Carolina 20-6, 10-3

STARS Arkansas guards Jaylen Barford (23 points, 5 rebounds) and Dusty Hannahs (20 points) and center Moses Kingsley (16 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocked shots). South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell (27 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists)

TURNING POINT With the shot clock about the expire, Manny Watkins made a jumper to give the Razorbacks a 79-76 lead with 29.2 seconds left.

KEY STAT Arkansas shot 53.6 percent (30 of 56) from the field.

UP NEXT Arkansas plays Ole Miss at 5 p.m. Saturday in Walton Arena.

It was the first road victory for Arkansas (19-7, 8-5 SEC) over a nationally ranked team since Feb. 26, 2014, when the Razorbacks beat No. 17 Kentucky 71-67 in overtime at Rupp Arena.

Daryl Macon, a junior guard from Little Rock, hit 4 of 4 free throws in the final 16.6 seconds to clinch the victory.

"We've got five games left in the season, and they keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. "But we beat a ranked team on the road, and I'm sure that adds a lot of value to what we're doing with our season.

"If we do what we're supposed to do, we'll be where we're suppose to be. I really believe that."

The shot clock was running down when senior guard Manny Watkins banked in an 18-foot shot as he was closely guarded by Rakym Felder to give the Razorbacks a 79-76 lead with 29.2 seconds left.

"The basketball gods were with him," said South Carolina senior guard Sindarious Thornwell, who scored a game-high 27 points. "It was great defense. You couldn't ask for better defense by Rakym.

"It was a heck of a shot. He stepped up and made a tough shot for his team."

Watkins also alluded to divine intervention.

"That one was just God," Watkins said. "I threw it up, and God put it in. I saw the shot clock had one second left, and I knew I had to get a shot off. You can't turn it over.

"When you get shots up, stuff like that can happen."

Arkansas senior guard Dusty Hannahs said he could see the shot was long.

"But you could kind of tell it was going in once it hit the backboard and bounced off the front of the rim," Hannahs said. "You saw the ball hop up, and you knew it was about to rattle in.

"It was just a big-time shot by Manny. He's not scared of the moment."

The officials stopped play to look at TV replays to make sure Watkins got the shot off before the 30-second clock expired, then signaled the basket was good.

"Good, how about that?" Anderson said with a smile when asked what he would call Watkins' shot. "People may look at it and say it's luck, but sometimes you create your luck."

Watkins, who hit 3 of 4 shots, said going up by three points on the Gamecocks was critical.

"They knew the best they could do was tie us," he said. "I think it made them tighten up a little bit."

Junior guard Jaylen Barford led the Razorbacks by tying a season-high 23 points. Hannahs had 20 points. Senior center Moses Kingsley had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Macon scored 13 points.

Arkansas led for the final 32 minutes and by as many as 12 points at 47-35 with 18:49 left after Hannahs hit a three-pointer.

South Carolina twice pulled within one point -- including 77-76 on PJ Dozier's layup with 1:04 left -- but the Gamecocks couldn't tie the score or take the lead.

South Carolina (20-6, 10-3) came into the game leading the SEC in field goal percentage defense at 38.7, but the Razorbacks shot 53.6 percent (30 of 56) and hit 7 of 14 three-pointers.

"We never played on our heels," Watkins said. "We always attacked. Even with the lead and the clock on our side, we kept attacking.

"When you play that hard and it's a team effort, it's hard for teams to beat you."

Gamecocks Coach Frank Martin said his team didn't practice well leading into the game.

"That was disappointing, but I'm not surprised," he said. "We've worked real hard for a long time, but have not been real good here of late. Our mindset has not been good.

"I tried to keep them in a good place and be positive, but obviously that didn't work."

Arkansas outscored South Carolina 25-2 over an 8:22 span, including eight pointseach by Barford and Hannahs, to move ahead 30-21 with 5:50 left in the first half after the Gamecocks had jumped to a 19-5 lead.

"We were getting stops on defense and getting good shots, getting our shooters open," Kingsley said. "They're a great defensive team, but we attacked them and tried to get them off balance and take them to the rim.

"We executed on offense and waited until we got something good, something we wanted."

It was the fifth game this season the Razorbacks have won on the road in which they trailed by 12 or more points.

"We've been there before, being down, and we never panicked," Watkins said. "We just stayed true to our game plan and kept going and going and playing hard."

South Carolina 6-9 sophomore forward Chris Silva had 16 points and 8 rebounds, but he fouled out with 2:30 left having played just 18 minutes.

"South Carolina is a heck of a team, but some things smiled on us when you think about the plays that took place going down the stretch," Anderson said. "It doesn't surprise me, because we put ourselves in a position to win.

"What tremendous performance by our team. Just staying connected throughout the game."

The Razorbacks improved to 5-2 in SEC road games. They're 3-3 at home.

"We lost some games at home, and so in order to be in the hunt -- whether it be for a championship or postseason play -- we had to go out on the road and try to steal a game," Anderson said. "This is one of those games we were fortunate to go on the road and find a way to win.

"That's what good teams do, and we feel we're a good basketball team."

Hannahs said the Razorbacks are thinking about the NCAA Tournament.

"We've had blunders at home, and we're trying not to look ahead," Hannahs said. "When that happens, you mess up. We're just taking it one game at a time and trying to finish strong."

Sports on 02/16/2017