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February 21, 2009

Hoops Extra: USC gets eighth SEC win

South Carolina reached another milestone of Darrin Horn's first season with its 82-78 overtime win over Arkansas on Saturday. The Gamecocks got their eighth SEC win, clinching at least a .500 finish in the league for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

"Another great college basketball game at Colonial Life Arena," Horn said. "We found a way to win in a game that didn't have a lot of flow; that maybe we weren't our best."

That 2003-04 year, also the last time USC advanced to the NCAA tournament, featured an 8-8 finish. It was the second time (1995-96) the Gamecocks have finished with an even split since joining the SEC.

USC's only two winning seasons in the SEC were in 1996-97 and 1997-98, when they won a combined 26 league games and one regular-season championship.

GETTING CLOSER: As assured before the game, one of the SEC East leaders lost on Saturday -- Tennessee was hammered 77-58 by Kentucky.

The loss joined with USC's win over Arkansas and Florida's win over Vanderbilt left the Gamecocks in a familiar position -- tied for first place in the SEC East. USC, Kentucky and Florida are each 8-4, Tennessee is 7-5, Vandy is 5-7 and Georgia is 1-11.

Each team has four games left in the regular season. The Gamecocks host Kentucky and Tennessee, traveling to Vanderbilt and Georgia. Florida hosts Tennessee and Kentucky and travels to LSU and Mississippi State. Kentucky hosts LSU and Georgia besides its other two games.

LSU, which improved to 11-1 with a win over Auburn on Saturday, creeps ever closer to the SEC regular-season championship. The top three Eastern teams are still in the race mathematically, but the Tigers would have to completely collapse.

IMPROVING: Arkansas freshman Jason Henry scored a career-high 27 points against the Gamecocks, besting his previous career-high by eight.

Henry has been the Razorbacks' sixth man for most of the season, coming in behind Courtney Fortson, Stefan Welsh and Rotnei Clarke. He's been up and down scoring-wise and also missed six games.

Three were due to getting minor arthroscopic surgery on his knee. Another three were due to suspension for violating team rules.

IMPROVING II: USC's free-throw percentage against the Razorbacks (76.9) was its second-best of the season.

BALTIC BOMBER: Evka Baniulis drilled four 3-pointers, matching his season-high. He's done it twice already this year.

Baniulis gave the Gamecocks a 5-3 lead with his first shot and a 24-13 advantage with his second. His third made a five-point second-half lead into eight and his fourth broke a 71-all tie in overtime.

HOME SWEET HOME: USC won its seventh straight home game, the first time that's happened since the 2002-03 season. The Gamecocks' lone home loss this year was to Clemson.

MATCHED: USC equaled its season-high with eight blocked shots. Mike Holmes had three and Austin Steed and Sam Muldrow had two each.

The Gamecocks also had eight stuffs in the season-opener against Jacksonville State.

LOW: USC's 29 rebounds against Arkansas was its lowest total of the season. The 17-board differential between the Gamecocks' total and their opponents' was likewise the largest of the year.



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