3:15 PM ET, March 11, 2004
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
ATLANTA (AP) -- South Carolina spent most of its pre-game practice shooting free throws, and nobody took advantage of the extra work like Mike Boynton.The lefty guard scored a career-high 32 points -- including 17-of-19 free throws -- and the Gamecocks might have solidified their postseason plans by beating Arkansas 91-81 Thursday in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament."We went over some plays, but it was mostly about free throws," said Josh Gonner, who added 18 points for South Carolina. "Whatever we need to work on the most, we do. Today it was free throws. We began with free throws and ended with free throws."They play LSU in the second round Friday."It was a clutch win," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "I was kind of worried about it."Boynton's previous best was 21 earlier this season against South Carolina State. In this one, he made five 3-pointers and helped the Gamecocks finish 39-of-50 as a team on free throws."I didn't necessarily want to come out and score, but I did want to come out and be aggressive," Boynton said. "As a senior, I think it was my time to step up."Tarence Kinsey added 14 and a career-high 11 rebounds for South Carolina (22-9), which lost four of its final five games of the regular season. The run put the Gamecocks squarely on the bubble for an NCAA tournament bid, and it started with a 16-point loss to Arkansas.But they made sure that didn't happen again. They took the lead for good barely three minutes into the game on a 3 by Gonner and Boynton added two more to start a 17-2 run."We wanted to impose our will on them, and we jumped on them early," Boynton said. "After that, we were able to hang on."The Razorbacks (12-16) never got closer than eight the rest of the way. Michael Jones finished with 15 and Jonathon Modica had 14 for Arkansas, which lost eight of its last nine to complete its second straight losing season under coach Stan Heath and third in a row overall."I thought they were a team we could beat," Heath said. "We weren't making shots, and a little bit of frustration sets in when you can't make shots."Before their recent struggles, the Razorbacks had one losing season in 27 years."We just didn't have our heads in the game at all," Arkansas forward Vincent Hunter said. "I couldn't tell you what the others were thinking about. You could see it in their eyes, they didn't want to go out there with their heart."A 3-pointer by Jones brought the Razorbacks within 13 with 8:36 left in the game, but Kinsey responded with a three-point play on a putback. The 6-foot-6 guard followed up his 10-point effort in the previous game against Tennessee -- his first one in double figures since Jan. 17 -- and hit his first 3 in four games to help stop a brief Arkansas rally early in the second half.The Razorbacks closed to 39-22 with two consecutive baskets after the break, forcing a timeout by South Carolina coach Dave Odom. He drew up a play in the huddle that his team ran perfectly, with Kinsey using a solid screen by Carlos Powell and swishing a jumper from beyond the arc."We did not call a play for Tarence, but he did what he was supposed to do," Odom said. "We needed it, too. That gave everybody a chance to breathe."On the next possession for the Gamecocks, Kinsey twice kept it alive with offensive rebounds.Later, another 3-pointer by Boynton and a free throw by Kerbrell Brown -- his only point of the game -- pushed the lead to 24, and South Carolina cruised from there.Surely this victory got them comfortably in the NCAA tournament, right?"I don't know, I haven't spoken to anybody on the selection committee, and neither has anybody else on the team," Boynton said with a straight face.
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