BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Even though South Carolina 7-foot center Josh Gray had a great game with a career-high 20 points and 14 rebounds on Saturday, it was not the original plan for him to end up with a potential game-winning shot.
But with Arkansas up 65-63 with just 2.5 seconds left that is just what happened when Razorback head coach Eric Musselman made an adjustment according to Gamecocks’ head coach Lamont Paris.
Instead of getting the ball to Meechie Johnson, who had 5 3-pointers and 20 points in the game, or to McDonald’s All-American GG Jackson III, it ended with the big center, who had 6-9 Arkansas center Makhel Mitchell in his face.
Gray’s shot came up empty and the Razorbacks (16-7, 5-5) nabbed their first true road win of the season and their fourth straight SEC win.
“It wasn’t to go to Josh,” Paris said. “The ball was in the exact spot it was supposed to be, but it was supposed to be GG catching the ball. They switched (on) the original (off the) ball screen so it looked like GG detoured in order to get open.
“GG is our best athlete so I wanted at least a jump ball situation in that spot I wanted to catch it beyond half court because you have just 2.5 seconds left. And then both things are on the table – a two or three. Because sometimes guys don’t want to foul so they will get out of your way.
“But the original intent was for GG to catch it with Meechie following behind him as an outlet to kick to him potentially if he needed to.”
Thus despite using a 10-0 run and rallying from a 13-point second half deficit, South Carolina (8-15, 1-9) lost its seventh straight game.
The last win? An improbable 71-68 win at Kentucky on Jan. 10 when Meechie Johnson nailed 6 3-pointers.
“That was a hard one to lose,” Paris said. “We are trying to make progress in some things and you see a lot of progress, but for the guys, particularly, they don’t get the instantaneous satisfaction of winning those games to drive some of those points home.”
South Carolina took a 63-62 lead on Gray’s dunk with 1:40 left, but Anthony Black’s two free throws 19 seconds later were the last points of the game.
“They obviously have a good team and are playing well, but I really wanted to win the game bad,” Paris said. “So I give their team credit, but I give our team a lot of credit for being ready to compete and being ready to do what we wanted to do in this particular game to give us the best chance to win.
“I think discipline caught up with us there at the end on a couple of plays, but we made the scouting report matter.”
Johnson, who was 0 of 5 from the field in the first half, agreed with that sentiment after the contest.
“You definitely want continue to build on a game like like this,” Johnson said. “Two weeks ago, they were a Top 15 team in the country and we just almost beat them. So we are not too far from where we are supposed to be, but have to close games and turn the corner. This is something that we can build off of, get back in the lab and close out games.”
Paris hopes he is team can clean up things and keep pushing forward.
“A lot of good positives,” Paris said. “We had the lead late in the game, with about a minute left, and we ended up turning the ball over on an offensive foul. That to some degree took the wind out of our sails.
“But there was some good stuff for sure. We did some good stuff on both sides of the ball. We made some shots here and there when we needed to. We executed some plays in a way that we needed to.”