Arkansas vs South Carolina: Eyes Will Be on Hogs’ SEC-Leading Foul Call Disparity

Jordan Walsh, GG Jackson, Arkansas basketball, South Carolina basketball, Arkansas vs South Carolina
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / South Carolina Athletics

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs South Carolina

Pregame Tidbits

For the second straight game, Arkansas is starting both Mitchell twins – Makhi and Makhel – alongside the usual trio of Anthony Black, Davonte Davis and Ricky Council IV.

7:31, 1H – Arkansas 21, South Carolina 12

It took some time, but Arkansas finally started to pull away thanks a 12-2 run that included a 3-pointer by Davonte Davis and a tough finish by Anthony Black on a layup. Jalen Graham has also been solid so far, with 6 points on 3 of 3 shooting.

It was pretty ugly up to that point. South Carolina is still shooting just 25% (5 of 20), while Arkansas is shooting 64.3% (9 of 14).

HALF – Arkansas 36, South Carolina 27

The Gamecocks are hanging around with offensive rebounds (8) and free throws (5 of 8). Those two things have led to 10 of their 27 points so far.

Jalen Graham was fantastic for the Razorbacks, making his first six shots before finally missing. He’s got 12 points on 6 of 7 shooting despite averaging just 5.0 points per game. South Carolina also had an unlikely contributor, as Josh Gray has 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting despite averaging just 3.4 points this season.

Arkansas shot 57.7% from the floor, but turned it over six times, while South Carolina shot 33.3% with five turnovers.

HALFTIME STATS – Arkansas vs South Carolina

11:47, 2H – Arkansas 51, South Carolina 43

Jordan Walsh started the second half in place of Makhi Mitchell.

The Razorbacks briefly led by 13 early in the half, their largest lead of the game, but South Carolina didn’t just go away. Meechie Johnson knocked down a couple of 3s to make it a two-possession game, but Davonte Davis finished through contact after a turnover to push it back to eight. He’ll try to complete the three-point play out of the U12 media timeout.

Jalen Graham has 14 points to lead the Hogs, but Davis has 11 – pending the free throw.

FINAL – Arkansas 65, South Carolina 63

Davonte Davis knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Hogs up by nine with 9:26 remaining, but then they went on a scoring drought that lasted more than 6.5 minutes. South Carolina went on a 10-0 run during that span to take its first lead since midway through the first half.

The Razorbacks and Gamecocks then exchanged blows over the final four minutes. A pair of Josh Gray dunks gave South Carolina the lead twice, but Anthony Black made a tough layup with 1:21 remaining to put the Hogs up for good.

They still tried to give it away, though, as Devo Davis missed the front end of a 1 and 1, giving South Carolina a chance to win it in the closing seconds. However, Black grabbed a rebound after some point-blank misses with 2.5 seconds left, made 1 of 2 free throws and then South Carolina’s desperation 3 missed.

FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs South Carolina

Starting Lineups

South CarolinaArkansas
#2 – G Chico Carter Jr.#0 – G Anthony Black
#5 – G Meechie Johnson#4 – G Davonte Davis
#10 – F Hayden Brown#1 – G Ricky Council IV
#23 – F GG Jackson II#15 – F/C Makhi Mitchell
#33 – C Josh Gray#22 – F/C Makhel Mitchell

Arkansas vs South Carolina Preview

After a disappointing end to the Big 12/SEC Challenge last Saturday, Arkansas basketball got back in the win column earlier this week.

Davonte Davis’ last-second self-alley-oop capped Tuesday night’s hard-fought 81-70 win over Texas A&M in which the Razorbacks never trailed, giving them their third straight SEC victory.

Despite the three-point loss at Baylor, Arkansas is clicking much better than it was early in conference play. Against the Bears, the Razorbacks put forward arguably their best defensive effort of the season, holding the No. 2 ranked offense to a season-low 33.9% shooting. Foul trouble and turnovers again plagued the Hogs in that road game, though, ultimately leading to a heartbreaking finish.

“The locker room after the Baylor game was silent,” Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said after the win over Texas A&M. “There was a lot of pain, so the question was, ‘How do you come back after that? Do you fight or let that linger?’ I thought we showed great toughness tonight after a fairly short turnaround.”

When Arkansas hits the road for its game against South Carolina (8-14, 1-8 SEC), which tips at 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday on the SEC Network, it will still be looking for their first road win of the season. The loss at Baylor dropped the Razorbacks to 0-5 on the road this year.

Luckily for this, this road opportunity comes against what projects to be a much weaker opponent. South Carolina is by far the worst team in the SEC according to KenPom (No. 254) and the NET (No. 284) and isn’t particularly good on either side of the ball, checking in at No. 249 and No. 245 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively.

Even though most of the stats point to an Arkansas advantage on paper, the Razorbacks can’t afford to overlook South Carolina given their overall record has them projected closer to a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament right now than the potential 3-seed they were flirting with before injuries derailed the early part of conference play.

What to Expect from South Carolina

The Gamecocks are led by true freshman forward Gregory “GG” Jackson II. The 6-foot-9 forward averages 16.1 points and 6.6 rebounds, including 19.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in his last five games – all of which were losses. He is taking roughly 5.5 three-point attempts per game and hitting at a 33% clip. Those numbers jump to 6.6 attempts at a 36% success rate over his last five games.

Despite his impressive display of long-range shooting this season, Jackson shoots just 63.6% from the free throw line. This quietly works in the Hogs’ favor, not because they will look to foul Jackson, but because they already inadvertently commit more fouls on the road than at home anyways (more on this later). So long as the Razorbacks don’t find themselves too deep in foul trouble, sending Jackson to the free throw line a few times might not be the worst strategy.

“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 3-point range. He’s a high-volume shooter.”

Devo Davis has settled into the role of guarding the best perimeter-oriented player from opposing teams, but this matchup in particular might be more than the 6-foot-4 guard can swallow. That’s not to say he won’t get a look at Jackson, but some of the forwards on the roster will likely serve as his primary defender. Perhaps even 6-foot-7 Anthony Black will get a turn at his former Team USA teammate.

“Me and GG, we talk every now and then,” Black said. “The thing about him is he is super tall and long and has a guard-like skillset. He’s pretty young and just a special talent, and he’s a good kid, too.”

Meechie Johnson, a 6-foot-2 guard, leads the team in assists at 3.3 per game along with his 11.9 points on 31% long-range shooting. Chico Carter is easily the team’s best 3-point shooter with a season average of 48.9% on 4.2 attempts per game, though he doesn’t contribute much elsewhere aside from his 10.5 points per game.

Hayden Brown is the fourth and final Gamecock averaging double figures with 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5 forward hasn’t shown to be much of a threat from long range, but he leads the team in 2-point percentage at over 55% on the season.

In the last two games, South Carolina has opted to start 6-foot-11 big man Josh Gray at center alongside GG Jackson. Full-season stats indicate Gray has been a non-factor for the Gamecocks. However, in his last four games, the junior is averaging 6.8 points, 10.3 rebounds (including 5.0 offensive boards) and 1.0 blocks on 48% shooting from the field.

Four days after getting beaten soundly in the rebounding battle against Texas A&M, the Mitchell twins will have their hands full keeping this South Carolina center off the offensive glass.

Arkansas Basketball Injury Update

Nick Smith Jr remains sidelined indefinitely for “right knee management” with no timetable for a return. Eric Musselman previously said he’d be out at least through the end of January and then the situation would be re-evaluated, but when asked about Smith on Thursday, he said, “There’s been no update.”

The injury report extends far beyond just Smith and Trevon Brazile (ACL), though. Ricky Council has been dealing with back issues, Makhel Mitchell missed a game with a foot/ankle sprain, Jalen Graham required an MRI for an undisclosed injury the day before the Texas A&M game and Anthony Black bumped knees with a Baylor player last Saturday and continually takes a beating in every game.

“Really, really impressed with (Black’s) toughness and willingness to give himself up for the team,” Musselman said. “We knew that he was not going to be fully healthy the latter part of the Baylor game and knew that he was not going to be even close to being healthy the other night against Texas A&M, but he’s not worried about his stats. He’s worried about trying to help the Arkansas Razorbacks win basketball games.”

Black himself has felt the contact through recent games, but he has no ill-intent towards opposing players and notes that basketball is a physical game with a lot of incidental contact.

“It’s pretty physical, but a lot of the time, it’s incidental,” Black said. “It’s not malicious, it’s just accidental… I guess you could say I’m pretty tough, so it doesn’t bother me that much, getting hit like that. I’m used to it now, I guess.”

What to Expect from Arkansas

The Razorbacks went with a starting five they had experimented with only once earlier in the season, including both Makhel and Makhi Mitchell alongside the main guard trio of Devo Davis, Ricky Council IV and Anthony Black. According to Danyelle Musselman, this was mandatory since it was the twins’ birthday, but Eric Musselman claims it was purely strategic for the matchup against a Texas A&M team that rebounds the ball better than most.

Regardless of what exactly spurred the decision, it paid off. The Hogs were still out-rebounded by nine, but the Mitchell twins put forward their best collective performance of the season. Makhel Mitchell specifically had by far his best game as a Razorback, tallying 9 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and a season-high 7 blocked shots.

He also played a season-high 32 minutes and shot 50% from the field, all while dealing with a recovering ankle injury that he suffered in the Ole Miss win on Jan. 21. Together, the twins combined for 15 points, 18 rebounds, 10 blocks and 2 steals on 54% shooting. Perhaps Musselman has found his starting frontcourt for the foreseeable future.

Notably missing from that starting frontcourt was Jordan Walsh. The freshman forward has struggled as much as anyone with foul trouble this season – especially in SEC play. Despite playing only 24.8 minutes in conference play, Walsh is averaging 3.3 fouls per game and has tallied at least 3 fouls in six of the Hogs’ nine SEC games. He’s fouled out four times already this season.

When Walsh is able to stay on the court, though, good things happen for the Razorbacks. Arkansas is 10-3 when he plays 20-plus minutes. When he hits two or more 3-pointers, Arkansas is 4-1, the lone loss being when Walsh played only 13 minutes on the road against Missouri — a game in which four Razorbacks fouled out.

The decision to start both Mitchells against Texas A&M likely came due to what the twins bring to the court, but Musselman may have inadvertently freed up Jordan Walsh to play his style of basketball without having to worry about foul trouble as much. Walsh played 27 minutes off the bench against the Aggies and tallied an efficient 12 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal on 50% shooting from the field and beyond the 3-point line.

Perhaps this new role off the bench will help Walsh overcome his struggles on the road this season. In home games, the forward averages 7.5 points on 52% shooting from the field and 32% shooting from beyond the arc while only being whistled for 2.5 fouls per game. On the road however, those numbers drop to 7.0 points on 37% FG and 19% 3PT shooting while being called for an astonishing 4.2 fouls per game.

Devo Davis has also seen struggles on the road in SEC play despite playing at an All-SEC level over the last seven games. He’s averaging 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals with shooting splits of 48% – 46% – 75% in that seven-game stretch.

However, in his last five road games, Davis is averaging just 13.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 0.6 steals with notable drops in his efficiency, as he has shot just 40% from the floor and 26% from deep.

For the Hogs to be competitive on the road, someone has to score well. Lately, Arkansas has leaned on Davis to fill that role, and while he’s produced points in several road games, they’ve come rather inefficiently and with increased turnovers. In his last three road games, Davis has turned the ball over 4.3 times per game compared to his season average of 2.1. If he is able to iron out this one fatal flaw in his game, not only will the Hogs win more of these close games, but he could see himself in contention for first-team All-SEC honors at the end of the season.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs South Carolina

Since SEC play started and including the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, Arkansas has been whistled for an average of 24.2 fouls on the road and only 17.6 fouls at home – the biggest discrepancy between home and away games in the SEC. The Razorbacks also allow 26.8 free throw attempts on the road compared to only 22.0 free throw attempts at home, which is the fourth-biggest discrepancy in the SEC.

TeamHome FoulsRoad FoulsDifference
1. Arkansas17.824.26.4
2. Missouri16.823.06.2
3. Alabama15.220.65.4
4. Vanderbilt14.819.44.7
5. Kentucky13.617.64.0
6. Ole Miss16.419.63.2
7. Mississippi St.14.817.02.2
8. South Carolina17.219.32.1
9. Texas A&M17.018.81.8
10. LSU15.816.40.6
11. Tennessee17.417.80.4
12. Auburn18.418.0-0.4
13. Florida16.215.4-0.8
14. Georgia18.816.6-2.2

Perhaps the Razorbacks’ reputation for playing aggressive defense factors into some of the 50/50 calls going against the Hogs, but there is no referee vendetta against Razorback basketball. The Hogs do play an aggressive style of defense and in turn sometimes struggle to overcome a tighter whistle.

Being such a young team, it’s reasonable to think that a few early whistles on the road could further rattle the Razorbacks, making it even more difficult to overcome a tightly-officiated game. This is something Arkansas will have to figure out before tournament season if it wants to make a legitimate run.

This Arkansas vs South Carolina matchup is a prime opportunity for the Razorbacks to take a step in the right direction. As a team, the Gamecocks have struggled mightily against above average defensive teams. The Gamecocks are 2-8 on the season when playing teams in the top-100 in defensive efficiency, a metric where the Hogs rank No. 12.

South Carolina has played three teams in the top 15 in defensive efficiency – No. 1 Tennessee, No. 9 Mississippi State and No. 10 Florida. In these games, they’re averaging 51.0 points on 32% shooting, including just 27% from beyond the arc. It will be imperative for Arkansas’ defense to travel well to Columbia and continue to bother this South Carolina team because the Hogs have struggled with offensive efficiency on the road.

Game Prediction – Arkansas vs South Carolina

Even with a devastating three-point loss to Baylor mixed in with their three-game SEC winning streak, the Razorbacks are playing their best basketball of the season on both sides of the ball. Even on the road, where they’re still winless, that trend will continue in Arkansas vs South Carolina.

Davis will lead the Razorbacks into battle with his seven consecutive double-digit scoring games — he had previously never had such a streak longer than four. Jordan Walsh will continue to thrive in his new role and get called for less than his average of 4.2 fouls per away game. With its backs firmly against the wall, Arkansas will put on another defensive clinic and get its first road win of the season – notching its largest margin of victory on the road since defeating Missouri 76-57 in February of last season in the process.

Arkansas, 69-56

How to Watch Arkansas vs South Carolina

Date: Saturday, Feb. 4

Location: Colonial Life Arena (Columbia, S.C)

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 2:30 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 93.8% chance to win

Watch Eric Musselman and Anthony Black preview the Arkansas vs South Carolina matchup:

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