Hogs use 'road rage' in win over Gamecocks

By: Bob Holt Bob Holt's Twitter account
Published: Monday, February 6, 2023
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman is shown during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in Columbia, S.C.
( David Beach/Special to the Democrat-Gazette )
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman is shown during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in Columbia, S.C.

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas basketball team had a happy flight home from Columbia, S.C., on Saturday.

Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman posted a photo on his Twitter account of himself, his wife, Danyelle, Arkansas’ players and staff members — including Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek — smiling on their chartered plane.

The Razorbacks hadn’t flown home after a victory since Nov. 23, when they beat San Diego State 78-74 in overtime at the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii.

That was 73 days before Arkansas won 65-63 over South Carolina at Colonial Life Arena.

Arkansas beat Oklahoma 88-78 in Tulsa on Dec. 10 and Bradley 76-57 in North Little Rock on Dec. 17, but those were bus trips for a neutral-site game where Razorback fans in the BOK Center far outnumbered their counterparts pulling for the Sooners, and where Arkansas enjoyed a home-crowd advantage in Simmons Bank Arena.

In between the victories over San Diego State and South Carolina, the Razorbacks had lost road games to LSU 60-57, Auburn 72-59, Vanderbilt 97-84, Missouri 79-76 and Baylor 67-64.

Arkansas (16-7, 5-5 SEC) handed South Carolina (8-15, 1-9) its seventh consecutive loss and dropped the Gamecocks to 0-6 in conference home games.

More from WholeHogSports: Diamond Hogs have best offensive day of preseason on Sunday, Matt Jones writes

But Musselman wasn’t about to apologize for the Razorbacks needing a comeback in the final four minutes — after South Carolina rallied from a 13-point deficit early in the second half — to secure their first road victory in six tries.

Arkansas extended its SEC winning streak to four games, including home victories over Ole Miss, LSU and Texas A&M.

For all of the Gamecocks’ struggles, they beat Clemson 60-58 at home and won at Kentucky 71-68. Clemson (18-6, 10-3 ACC) is ranked No. 20, and Kentucky (16-7, 7-3), where the Razorbacks play on Tuesday, has won six consecutive SEC games since losing to South Carolina.

“We talked to our team about South Carolina beating Clemson, and about them going into Lexington and winning there,” Musselman said. “Any road game is a good win. It’s hard to win on the road.

“Both teams were desperate for a win. We were desperate for a road win. South Carolina was desperate for a home win. It continues to be a learning experience for many of our guys, and I do think we are playing much better basketball having won four games in a row in league play.”

Musselman got creative in trying to motivate his players about getting a road victory.

“Our coach was talking about road rage,” Arkansas senior forward Jalen Graham said. “He (showed) a little clip of some guy driving and looking mad.”

The Razorbacks took a 36-27 halftime lead.

“Road rage was our game theme coming in,” Musselman said. “We tried to do something to loosen the mood. I probably should have talked about it at halftime. I didn’t.

More from WholeHogSports: Our Scottie Bordelon's analysis of Arkansas' road win over South Carolina

“But I thought it helped us get off to a good start as we had a little bit of fun with it pregame. I just kind of talked about what happens when you’re in a traffic jam, and what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to go through, around, over, whatever.”

After South Carolina used a 16-6 run to take a 59-58 lead with 4:04 left on two free throws by Josh Gray, the Razorbacks got five points from freshman guard Anthony Black and a driving score from junior guard Ricky Council to go ahead 65-63.

Arkansas hung on to win when Gray’s last-second three-point attempt missed.

“We never want to lose a game, but at Baylor … we played really well in a tough environment,” Musselman said on Arkansas’ postgame radio show. “Yes, this team is playing well. Are we playing great? No. Do we need to continue to improve? Yes.

“Are we improving? Absolutely we’re improving.”

Musselman said the game at South Carolina played out similarly to the Razorbacks’ SEC opener at LSU, but this time they won.

“We are getting better,” Musselman said. “We’re still not pretty, but we have improved.”

Arkansas junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis had 15 points, hit 4 of 10 three-pointers and played effective defense, first in holding down 6-9 GG Jackson — who was averaging 16.1 points and scored 9 — and then switching to guard Meechie Johnson late in the game after he had scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half.

More from WholeHogSports: UA women 'found a way' to win at Auburn, Neighbors says

Johnson didn’t score after hitting a three-pointer with 5:09 left.

“Devo is a big-time player,” Graham said. “He does it on both ends. It’s something we need every game from him — him making threes, then playing D. Three-and-D, just like the NBA wants a guy like that.

“We’re just glad that we have him. How ferocious he is on defense, how hard he plays on defense.”

Arkansas leaned heavily on Black as well as freshman forward Jordan Walsh. Black, the only Razorback to start every game, had 13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocked shots in 40 minutes against the Gamecocks, and Walsh had 10 rebounds and 4 points in 27 minutes off the bench.

Six of Walsh's rebounds came on the offensive end.

“I think those two guys in particular are growing,” Musselman said.

With Graham scoring 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting, the Razorbacks outscored the Gamecocks 20-4 in bench points. Walsh (12) and Graham (5) also outscored Texas A&M’s bench 17-0 in the Razorbacks’ 81-70 victory last Tuesday.

“Back-to-back games, we’ve dominated the bench scoring,” Musselman said on Arkansas’ postgame radio show. “A lot of positives to take away.”


Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.