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
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
"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,
"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.