FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford are no strangers to controlling games offensively much of the time, with both of the Arkansas seniors in the top five in the Southeastern Conference in scoring.
For one night, at least, the Razorbacks backed up their dynamic guard duo with a defensive effort worthy of a team hoping to reach the NCAA Tournament for a third time in four seasons.
Macon and Barford combined to score 49 points to help Arkansas (16-8, 5-6 SEC) put an end to a two-game losing streak with an 81-65 win over South Carolina on Tuesday night. Macon led the way with 25 points and Barford added 24, but for a change it wasn’t their scoring outputs that helped the Razorbacks earn the much-needed victory.
Rather, it was a stellar defensive effort by an Arkansas team that’s struggled to stop opponents for much of the season — in particular during losses at Texas A&M and LSU last week.
Against the Gamecocks (13-11, 4-7), the Razorbacks scored 26 points off 18 South Carolina turnovers and held last year’s Final Four squad to 41.2-percent (21 of 51) shooting from the field.
“When we play like that, when we play like we did tonight, we can lead no matter who we’re playing,” Macon said. “Tonight, we got back to our old ways, which is defense first and offense second.”
As good as Arkansas was defensively, Macon’s 25 points continued what’s been a remarkable recent surge in scoring for the senior. He’s now scored 20 or more points in six straight games, the first Razorbacks player to do so since Corliss Williamson did so in eight straight games during the 1994-95 season, when Arkansas made the second of its back-to-back national title game appearances.
Macon hit 12 of 13 free throws and Barford was 5 of 9 on 3-pointers. Also, freshman Daniel Gafford had 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting for the Razorbacks, who entered the game having lost six of 10 games after starting the season 11-2.
“To me, that’s the team I saw earlier in the year,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “So, it’s just good to see us resemble that team tonight.”
Hassani Gravett scored 12 points to lead South Carolina, which has lost four straight games for the first time since the 2014-15 season. Justin Minaya and Kory Holden added 11 points apiece, but the Gamecocks had few answers against Arkansas’ pressure defense.
“You want to get confidence in your defense, play us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “That will help you … We haven’t played a team that plays like them, and we obviously didn’t handle that very well.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks had seven of their shots blocked in the loss, with Gafford and Arkansas teammate Trey Thompson blocking three apiece. “We lead the country in shots getting blocked,” Martin said. “So, I’m telling you, you want to get confidence in your defense, play against us. We’ll turn it over and we’ll shoot it right into your guy so he can block shots and feel good about himself.”
Arkansas: The Razorbacks entered Tuesday tied for 288th in the country in scoring defense, allowing an average of 77 points per game. Bolstered by a lineup change that featured 6-foot-8 freshman Gabe Osabuohien seeing extended action for the first time since non-conference play, Arkansas put together one of its best defensive performances in SEC play. Osabuohien played 17 minutes and didn’t score, but he took two charges and forced a five-second call in the second half. “He probably had the most impact on the game,” Anderson said.
South Carolina hosts Florida on Saturday.
The Razorbacks stay home to face Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt_Voigt_AP