It was the University of Arkansas' game to win.
The Razorbacks led by 13 with 15:37 to play and were dominating with their defense. They were forcing South Carolina to shoot threes. Anytime the Gamecocks drove into the paint they were subject to having their pockets picked or be heavily defended.
Then, a cold front moved across the Arkansas bench and within too few minutes the lead was gone. The game was suddenly tied with 9:39 to play.
It was the same old song and too many verses to count for the Razorbacks. Daniel Gafford, who will be playing in the NBA next season, was forgotten.
Gafford got five shots and the Razorbacks shot 22 threes, making only six. That is a recipe for disaster, especially on the road.
The Razorbacks opened the second half hitting five of their first six shots and forcing two turnovers.
Suddenly, focus was lost on defense and momentum swung so hard that the Gamecocks won going away 77-65. In the final 14 minutes the home team had only four turnovers.
In the first half the Hogs scored at ease on turnovers but not the second half.
The beginning of the end for the Razorbacks was what happened at halftime when South Carolina head Coach Frank Martin made adjustments to everything his team was doing.
Turnovers stopped as he had his team posting and passing through the Hogs' pressure. The Gamecocks ran their offense to get better shots, including too many open threes, and they actually ran plays to their big man Frank Silva who finished with 16 points, half on on free throws because the only way to slow him was to foul him.
The Razorbacks opened the second half making five of their first six shots, then went five of 19 down the stretch. In a little more than four minutes after taking that 13-point lead the Razorbacks missed four shots, suffered two turnovers and fouled twice. The Gamecocks suddenly had confidence and took it to the Hogs inside and out.
Arkansas's defense was smoking hot to start the game, getting 15 turnovers and cashing them in for 14 points as the Gamecocks had more turnovers than field goals and rebounds combined.
The Razorbacks raced to a 26-14 lead even with Gafford on the bench with two fouls, but then the Hogs let up. South Carolina started 3 of 11 from the field, but then the Arkansas defense started giving better looks to the Gamecocks who made five of their final seven shots, cutting the Hogs' lead to 35-31 at halftime.
Arkansas' game is pressure defense and it got to the Gamecocks often and early, but then late in the first half without turnovers the Razorbacks made only two of 10 shots.
Whether it is the confines of Bud Walton Arena or on the road in the SEC, the Razorbacks have to think defense, first, second and third. It is their calling card and it was like they were jumping on the backs of the Gamecocks until they let up. The Gamecocks got their breath and new directions.
The loss snapped a four-game win streak by the Razorbacks and slammed them to the back burner in making the NCAA Tournament conversation.
This will go down as a big loss against the Hogs. South Carolina is an average team led by two freshmen who played with poise from start to finish, and most likely is a NIT team.
The Razorbacks stay on the road, going to Missouri. If there is one thing they should have learned by now, even at home, they need to be going inside to Gafford on almost every possession. If he doesn't have a shot he'll kick it back to an open teammate.
That is even more critical on the road.
Sports on 02/10/2019
Print Headline: Gamecocks breathed easier after Hogs let up