Thornwell leads South Carolina past Arkansas 76-61
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Sindarius Thornwell didn't feel any extra pressure stepping into a leading role for a South Carolina team minus injured leading scorer Michael Carrera on Saturday.
The junior certainly played the part well in the Gamecocks (24-7, 11-7 Southeastern Conference) 76-61 win at Arkansas.
With Carrera out with a hip injury, Thornwell scored 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had six assists in the convincing win - one in which South Carolina led by as many as 27 points in the second half before holding off a late rally by the Razorbacks (16-15, 9-9).
It was the fifth time Thornwell has topped 20 points in the game this season, though none of the other performances were as timely for a Gamecocks team that entered the game having lost two in a row and four of six overall.
''Our team is not focused on one player, and our offense is not designed around one player, so we all took it upon ourselves to step up a notch and do the things that Mike (does) with each other,'' Thornwell said.
Thornwell was at his best early, scoring 15 points in a first half where South Carolina's multiple pressure-defensive looks left Arkansas confused and out of rhythm offensively.
Duane Notice added 15 points for South Carolina, while Laimonas Chatkevicius had 11 and Mindaugas Kacinas 10, but it was the Gamecocks defense that led the way as the school matched its most victories since the 1996-97 season - the most conference victories since 1997-98.
The win was also the fifth on the road this season - fourth in the SEC - for South Carolina, which entered Saturday having lost two in a row and compiled an 8-7 record since a 15-0 start to the season.
And it did so without Carrera, who entered the game averaging 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
''We're not going to replace (Carrera) with one guy,'' South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. ''But we need a community effort to replace his personality, we need a community effort to replace his rebounding ... And you have to trust in the guys that you have.''
For Arkansas, the loss is the fifth at home this season - the most in one season under coach Mike Anderson. The Razorbacks lost four home games, including one in North Little Rock, in Anderson's first season in 2011-12, and they finished this regular season 13-5 in Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas entered Saturday having won four straight games to keep its faint hopes of reaching the postseason alive, but the Razorbacks hit only 4 of their first 18 shots and shot 26.9 percent (7 of 26) in falling behind 36-24 at halftime.
Dusty Hannahs and Anthlon Bell had 16 points each to lead Arkansas, while Moses Kingsley added 13 in the regular-season finale.
''Tough day at the office,'' Anderson said. ''They were the more aggressive team, they were the more physical team ... I thought we were tentative against whatever defense they had.
South Carolina didn't let up in the second half, opening on a 20-5 run that saw it take a 56-29 lead after a putback by Chatkevicius.
The Razorbacks did cut the South Carolina lead to nine points several times late in the game, but they were unable to get any closer against a Gamecocks team that shot 50.9 percent (28 of 55) from the field and outrebounded Arkansas 41-26.
South Carolina: Thornwell scored 15 of his 22 points in the first half, and he matched his career-best with the 11 rebounds - equaling the total he had at Georgia on Feb. 2. The junior was also 2 of 3 on 3-pointers.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks opened the game hitting 4 of their first 18 shots, and Bell finished 6 of 17 from the field.
Arkansas point guard Jabril Durham, 15th in the country with an average of 6.2 assists per game, finished with 11 on Saturday - the seventh time the senior has had double-digit assists in a game this season.
Both teams next play at the SEC tournament next week.