COLUMBIA — South Carolina coach Frank Martin didn't mince words with his players when he called a timeout less than five minutes into the game with his team down 15-3.
"This ain't good," Martin told the group.
That's when point guard Bruce Ellington took control of the huddle, telling his teammates there was plenty of time left to get back in it. Boy, did the Gamecocks listen.
Brian Richardson tied his career high with 20 points, including 11 in a 40-11 run to close the first half of a 75-54 victory over Arkansas on Saturday. It matched the Gamecocks (12-7, 2-4 SEC) number of Southeastern Conference victories from a season ago and was their first win of 20-or-more points since they defeated Mississippi State, 83-61, on Feb. 11, 2006.
"Just keep playing," Ellington reminded the Gamecocks. "We worked too hard at practice and we've just got to bring it on into the game. Then we stepped up, made some stops and hit some open threes."
Especially, Richardson who had three long-range baskets in the Gamecocks' back-breaking run.
Arkansas (12-7, 3-3) could never get closer than 14 points in the second half as it lost its third straight league game on the road this season. Marshawn Powell had 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Razorbacks, who had come in off a 26-point victory at home Wednesday night over Mississippi State.
Arkansas' leading scorer coming, B.J. Young, was held to seven points — nine fewer than his average — on 3 of 12 shooting. Ellington, who was Young's primary defender, is a two-sport star who has gradually worked his way back into basketball shape since finishing his time on the football team as the Gamecocks' leading receiver. Ellington finished with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including two 3-pointers.
"The run was pretty good. It was fun," Richardson said. "We played hard and that's how we need to play all the time, play with a lot of passion, a lot of energy and the results will take care of itself."
Richardson's heard that from Martin since practice started in October. The first-year coach said Richardson struggles at times with keeping his on-court energy high. He had set his season high two weeks back at Mississippi State, then was 3 of 12 from the floor with 7 points in South Carolina's next four games.
"The last two days, he's kind of re-engaged with that energy," Martin said. "Telling me, without telling me, 'Get me back out there. I'm ready to go.' So it was great the way he responded."
Arkansas came in winning three of its last four games, although it had dropped both league contests on the road so far. But the Razorbacks came out on fire in this one, hitting six of their first nine shots to open up a 15-3 lead less than five minutes in after Rickey Scott's three-point play and wide-open 3-pointer.
The Gamecocks put together an offensive stretch they've rarely had in coach Frank Martin's first season with a 40-11 sprint to the half.
"I thought they were a little bit tougher than we were today," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said.
Lakeem Jackson's 3-poniter with 7:58 left gave South Caroline the lead for good at 20-17 — and the team kept pouring it on the Razorbacks. Richardson followed with a long-range shot and Ellington a driving layup as four Arkansas players watched. Richardson added five straight points and Ellington a 3 to put South Carolina ahead 35-19.
The Razorbacks, meanwhile, fell into an offensive funk. They were 3-of-14 from the field the last 15 minutes of the half and would've trailed by more had not Powell crept behind the defense for a jam with less than a second to play.
Martin lit into freshman Mindaugas Kacinas for letting Powell get loose as the Gamecocks headed to the locker room ahead 43-26.
The Gamecocks were 2-14 in the SEC last year, leading to the dismissal of coach Darrin Horn and the hiring of Martin from Kansas State.
Arkansas struggled to make shots in this one, going 2 of 16 on 3s, while the Gamecocks, who came in ninth in the SEC in three-point shooting, were 7 of 12 from way outside.
"It was a tough day at the office for our basketball team," Anderson said, "although I thought we came in with the right mindset."