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March 14, 2014
Hoops Extra: SEC Tournament-Arkansas
ATLANTA -- He's going to need a new nickname.
Called "Lame-O" by his teammates as a shortened version of his first name, Laimonas Chatkevicius has been anything but meek in the SEC Tournament.
In fact, he's been downright nasty.
Through two games he's averaging 13.5 points and 8 rebounds a game. His 16 points against Arkansas in the Gamecocks' 71-69 win Thursday night in the second round of the SEC Tournament were a career-high, as were his made free-throws (8).
Not only has Chatkevicius been solid from the field, going 4-for-5 (80 percent) Thursday, in two games from the free throw line he's been sensational, going 15-for-18 (.833). Only Brent Williams, the nation's leading free-throw shooter coming into Thursday's game, has been better (12-for-14, .857) in USC's two games in Atlanta.
Of his seven rebounds Thursday, six were offensive rebounds, meaning he's aggressively following missed shots and giving the Gamecocks second-chance opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have.
Chatkevicius - whose name has been pronounced almost as many different ways by the Georgia Dome public address announcer as it has letters in it - said the change in his play recently has been simply executing what the coaches teach.
"As coach told us, there's nothing to learn or to teach after today; you have to find a way to win," said Chatkevicius, a sophomore. "Whenever I got the ball in the post, I was just doing what I could to try to help the team win."
GLASS MASTERS: Led by sophomore Lithuanian Mindaugas Kacinas, who had a team-high 10 rebounds, and seven rebounds each from Chatkevicius and Michael Carrera, South Carolina dominated Arkansas on the glass, claiming a 40-24 edge in rebounds for the game.
For Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, the rebounds were the difference in winning and losing.
"To me this game came down to toughness and rebounding the basketball," Anderson said. "So our inability to rebound the basketball, especially at the opportune times. I thought, really had a bearing on or had a big-time outcome on this game."
CHARITY KILLS: Besides rebounds, another huge discrepancy in the stats between the two teams was in South Carolina's ability to get to the line time and again. The Gamecocks shot 41 free throws to Arkansas' 26, a stat that did not go unnoticed by Arkansas's Anderson.
"We fouled unnecessarily," Anderson said. "It gets back to some fouls they call, some they don't. That's no excuses, but 41 free throws is a lot of free throws.
"So when you look at the free throw discrepancy, it makes a big, big difference."
WINNING UGLY: Anderson, who has faced Frank Martin before when Martin was at K-State, was asked how Martin's teams typically play.
"They're going to scrap and claw," Anderson said. "They're going to go up there and get it, do all that other stuff.
"They're going to maul you. Make the game ugly. We like to make it ugly, they like to make it ugly, grinding."
REDEMPTION: After a 3-pointer from Brian Steele gave South Carolina a six-point lead with 25 seconds before the half, an unfortunate sequence as time was expiring by Kacinas gave the Razorbacks unexpected life. With the ball and the final shot, Arkansas' Rashad Madden launced a long three that missed and was bouncing out-of-bounds with no Razorbacks in pursuit. For some reason, Kacinas lept after it, tried to tip it back inbounds and failed, giving Arkansas the ball back with 1.7 seconds on the clock.
The Razorbacks inbounded to Anthlon Bell, who drained a 3-pointer that went in at the buzzer to trim the lead to three at 35-32 and give Arkansas momentum going into halftime.
"It's hard to say (why I went after it)," Kacinas said. "I definitely regretted going after the ball, especially when they made the 3-pointer."
Kacinas got some redemption of the tip variety late in the game that more than made up for his earlier mistake. Trailing by three with 1:53 to play, Kacinas hit the first of his two free throws to make the score 69-67. On the second attempt, Chatkevicius missed, but Kacinas tipped the ball out to Sindarius Thornwell, who was fouled. Thornwell hit both his free throws this time, which tied the game at 69 and gave the Gamecocks a three-point possession they sorely needed as they hang on to win.
"I saw that he was going to miss the free throw, so I went after it and tipped it out," Kacinas said. "Sin got it, got fouled and hit his two fouls shots. It felt great, trust me, after what happened earlier."
BRENT 'TIRED': Martin said after the game that Brent Williams, who finished with 10 points but only had one field goal on 1-for-4 shooting, including 0-for-3 from 3-point range, was fatigued Thursday.
"Did I expect (such low numbers)?," Martin said. "No. I really hope it doesn't happen again. But Brenton was tired today. Brent didn't have that spring, that attack-mode mentality that he's had for pretty much the last six weeks of the season for us.
"But give Arkansas credit. Arkansas is a real good team. When we were at their place, they left him alone and he made a bunch of shots (29 points). They weren't leaving him today."
With Williams a bit off, Kacinas said it was up to others to pick up the slack and that the entire team has rallied around Brent in Atlanta trying to extend his Gamecock career.
"We have one senior and we don't want to send him back home," Kacinas said. "So we're doing everything we can to keep him in this tournament. We're just trying to help each other. Everyone has bad days, but that's why you have teammates to help you out."
STEELE SHINES: All Brian Steele does is give everything he has on the court, even if he's not as physically gifted as many of his opponents on the court. That's why through two games he's averaging 17 minutes a game. Scoreless with a rebound and an assist against Auburn, in the win over Arkansas, Steele scored five points with two rebounds, including a big 3-pointer just before the half to put the Gamecocks up six and a big basket with 3:55 left on a putback following an offensive rebound that gave USC a 64-63 lead.
"Brian Steele, the play of a game where we were starting to reel a little bit and we had a bad offensive possession," Martin said. "Instead of standing there watching he ran after that offensive rebound, put (it) back.
"That doesn't sound like much, but it was a crucial play in a difficult moment of the game for us. That play gave us life to, you know what, let's fight the next play. We kept doing that and somehow, some way we figured out a way to be sitting here with a great opportunity to play tomorrow."
Steele said he enjoys his role coming off the bench.
"My role is to play as hard as I can, try to find my teammates, do what coach asks," said Steele, a sophomore. "The simple things, I guess. I love being the sparkplug. I love diving for loose balls, finding my teammates. I like that."
Like Martin, Steele also likes where his team is sitting right now.
"I think we feel comfortable as a team," Steele said. "We like where we're at. We know we've put in the work and we should be here."
UP NEXT: The Gamecocks face Tennessee tomorrow at approximately 3:30 p.m. in the tournament quarterfinals. The game will start 25 minutes after the conclusion of the Missouri-Florida game.
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