Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Something has to give in South Carolina
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman shouts to players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Jan.14, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Vanderbilt won 97-84. (AP Photo/John Amis)
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas is 0-5 in road games. South Carolina is 0-5 in SEC home games.
But somebody has to win when the Razorbacks (15-7, 4-5 SEC) play the Gamecocks (8-14, 1-8) at 2:30 p.m. Central today in Colonial Life Arena.
“They’re desperate to win at home,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “We’re desperate to win on the road.”
Three of Arkansas’ road losses — LSU, Missouri and Baylor — have been by a combined nine points. The Razorbacks lost each game by three points and got up a three-point attempt on the final possession.
“We’re continuing to try to get better,” Musselman said. “We’re continuing to evolve.
“We’re one play away from winning at LSU, we’re one play away from winning at Missouri, we’re one play away from winning at Baylor. So I wouldn’t say we’ve played bad basketball on the road.
“I would just say we’ve been unfortunate in three games not to catch a break, and obviously we need to try to create one more possession on the road than what we had in those three games.”
South Carolina suffered its latest home loss when Mississippi State won 66-51 in Colonial Life Arena on Tuesday night.
It was South Carolina’s sixth consecutive loss since the Gamecocks had a shocking 71-68 victory at Kentucky on Jan. 10.
The only other team to beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena this season is No. 8 Kansas, 77-68 last Saturday in the SEC /Big 12 Challenge.
The Gamecocks also have a home victory over Clemson, 60-58, in the second game. The Tigers (18-4) are ranked No. 20 this week.
South Carolina Coach Lamont Paris led Tennessee-Chattanooga to an 87-71 record over the last four seasons.
“You see a team that’s with a new coach, and certainly with all of us in our first year, there’s peaks and valleys,” Musselman said. “But they’ve proven they can beat anyone on any given night.”
Before the Gamecocks won at Kentucky, they lost to No. 2 Tennessee 85-42 at home. Then after they beat Kentucky, they lost to Texas A&M 94-53 at home. Ole Miss got its only SEC victory at South Carolina 70-58.
So the Gamecocks have been an inconsistent team, but given the Razorbacks’ winless record on the road, they can’t take anything for granted.
“Any game in the SEC is tough, but especially if it’s a road game,” Arkansas freshman Anthony Black said. “We just have to be focused on ourselves, play as good as we can play and come out with a win.
“We can’t get too caught up in who we’re playing against. We just have to focus and do whatever it takes to win a road game, which we haven’t done yet.”
The Gamecocks have a projected first-round NBA Draft pick in 6-9 freshman GG Jackson, who is averaging 16.1 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Jackson had a career-high 30 points in South Carolina’s 81-66 loss at Auburn. He has hit 39 of 119 three-pointers (32.8%).
“I think with South Carolina, obviously GG Jackson is involved in everything that they do from an offensive standpoint,” Musselman said. “So it’ll be important for us to locate him as soon as he crosses half court.
“He’s a three-dimensional scorer in the fact he can post up, he can offensive rebound, he’s got deep three-point range. He’s a high volume shooter.”
Gamecocks point guard Meechie Johnson, a transfer from Ohio State, is averaging 11.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He had 26 points at Kentucky.
Johnson had 13 points and 2 steals, but also 7 of South Carolina’s 18 turnovers against Mississippi State. Jackson had 15 points, but 0 rebounds and 5 turnovers.
“It’s tough when you’re losing,” Johnson said. “Nobody wants to lose, especially six in a row.”
The Gamecocks have eight newcomers, including four freshmen and four transfers.
“We know that we do have a lot of young players, new faces, just a completely different new staff and everything,” Johnson said. “No excuse. A lot of other teams do too.
“With that being said, you’ve just got to lift a brother up. A lot of people may be down in a slump or whatever it may be, and the goal is to pick them up and move on to the next game. That’s all you can do.”
The Gamecocks have started 1-8 in the SEC for the first time since 2013-14, when they finished 5-13 in conference play and 14-20 overall.
“You have to move forward,” Paris said. “You have to get ready for the next game.
“You have to try to improve, and the only way you’re going to do it is if you have a positive attitude. If you’re going to accept the work and try to get better. Otherwise, you’re just the same guy and you hope you play better.”
Arkansas has won its last three SEC games over Ole Miss 69-57, LSU 60-40 and Texas A&M 81-70, but all of those were at home.
“We expect to win home games, but we expect to win road games as well,” Razorbacks guard Davonte Davis said. “Have we executed? No, but we’ll continue to fight hard on the road, and we’re not looking to shy back from any road games.
“As the season continues, we’re going to have more and more road games, and we can’t hide, like Coach Muss always tells us.
“So we’re going to get ready for this road game coming up. We’re going to be prepared.”
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