The Arkansas basketball team finally broke into the SEC win column with a buzzer-beating victory over Texas A&M Tuesday night and now looks to keep the momentum rolling as South Carolina comes to Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
The Gamecocks soar in with an overall record of 14-3, but are just 2-2 since the conference slate began, including two losses in their last three games. Carolina is looking to bounce back from a 74-69 home loss to Georgia on Tuesday night.
Arkansas Head Coach Eric Musselman praised the Gamecocks’ play, thus far, particularly that of junior guard Meechie Johnson, who comes in averaging 17.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while also leading the team with 35 made three-pointers and 16 steals.
“They have a really good backcourt and Johnson is playing as well as anyone in the country … but there are a lot of things we’ve got to get ready for between now and Saturday,” Musselman said on Thursday.
The fifth-year Hog coach is more concerned with his own team, and continuing to figure out which lineup gives the Razorbacks their best chance to win.
Arkansas (10-7, 1-3 SEC) did end a three-game conference losing streak with the 78-77 win over the Aggies, but now needs to find a way to build on it.
“For us it’s about preparation, understanding South Carolina’s record,” Musselman said. “The last game was good. Whether anything carries over, we will find out at gametime. But certainly a step in the right direction on many fronts.”
Since he arrived in 2019, Musselman has typically utilized a seven- or eight-man rotation during conference play. That formula has proven to work by the end of the season, as the Razorbacks have advanced to the past three Sweet 16s of the NCAA Tournament, including a couple of trips to the Elite 8.
This year’s roster has him a little more baffled, as he and his staff try to figure out the best combinations to put on the court together. Everyone on the bench graced the court in a 90-68 loss at Florida last Saturday, and 10 players saw time against Texas A&M.
“I don’t think it’s about any one player,” Musselman said. “We can’t keep playing 11 or 12 guys. When we do that the game’s not in our favor. We’ve historically been a program that has played seven or eight guys, trying to pair the rotation down. Who has a good game on Saturday, or who has a sub-par game, I’m not really sure.”
The overall depth of this season’s roster seems to be better than past seasons, top to bottom, but not many players have stepped up on a regular basis.
“There is only so many minutes to go around and certainly we have a staff that evaluates practice, and pieces have got to fit together,” he said. “Both sides of the basketball are important, and offense is as important as defense. If not, defense may be a little bit more important here at Arkansas. So, it’s just a whole bunch of factors with all of our guys – and I’m talking in general, from one to 14.”
Junior guard Tramon Mark has been the most consistent with his performances, averaging 17.8 points per game – 20.3 in SEC games – while shooting 53 percent from the field. The Houston transfer scored a career-high 35 against Texas A&M, including the final dagger, a floating jump-shot with 1.1 seconds remaining on the clock.
This will be the 39th meeting between Arkansas and South Carolina, since both schools entered the SEC together in 1991. The Razorbacks hold a 23-15 overall advantage, including a 12-5 mark in Fayetteville.
The teams will tip off at noon on Saturday and it will be aired nationally on the SEC Network.