NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) South Carolina is pursuing a consolation prize after missing out on the Southeastern Conference regular-season title.

Winning the SEC Tournament would work out nicely for the 15th-ranked Gamecocks.

Collin Murray-Boyles scored 24 points and South Carolina took the first step Thursday, beating Arkansas 80-66.

“We’re here to prove we are a championship-contender team,” guard Ta'Lon Cooper said.

South Carolina (26-6), the No. 5 seed, took control of a back-and-forth game with a 16-0 run spanning halftime to put the Gamecocks into Friday's quarterfinals against No. 12 Auburn, the fourth seed.

The Gamecocks gave AP SEC coach of the year Lamont Paris his first conference tourney win, and they tied the 2017 Final Four team for most wins in program history. Paris' performance already has earned him a big pay raise and extension.

“This was a no-brainer, at least on my part,” Paris said of the new deal.

B.J. Mack added 19 points for South Carolina, which won its first game at this tournament since beating Ole Miss in the opening round of 2018. Ta'Lon Cooper scored 11 points.

Khalif Battle led 12th-seeded Arkansas with 20 points. Makhi Mitchell added 15 and Jalen Graham had 11.

Arkansas (16-17) faced a quick turnaround after rallying from a 14-point halftime deficit Wednesday night to beat Vanderbilt 90-85. The Razorbacks jumped out to an 11-3 lead before South Carolina got going with Murray-Boyles leading the way.

The Gamecocks scored the final six points of the first half, capped by Johnson's driving layup out of a timeout with 4.3 seconds left, to take a 38-35 lead. Murray-Boyles shot 11 of 15 overall, scored 12 points in each half and finished with seven rebounds and four assists with no turnovers.

“His ceiling is so high. He’s got an unbelievably high ceiling,” Paris said. “I don’t even think he’s close to it still.”

South Carolina opened the second half by scoring the first 10 points. The Gamecocks led by 21 in the final minutes.


Arkansas: The Razorbacks leave with a .500 record in this tournament at 31-31. They fell to 2-3 in the second round, just missing the quarterfinals, where this program is 16-3 since joining the SEC. They also will miss the NCAA Tournament for only the second time since coach Eric Musselman took over.

“Right now the season ending stings,” Musselman said. “I have not been in this position. Hopefully the program is not. Hopefully we’re playing deeper in this tournament, but more importantly hopefully we’re playing in NCAA tournaments.”

South Carolina: The Gamecocks came in with the SEC's best scoring defense. This was their 25th game holding an opponent below 70 points and they improved to 21-0 when doing that, including 11-0 in league play. They improved to 11-0 when scoring at least 70 points against an SEC foe. ... They outscored Arkansas 52-38 in the paint.


South Carolina gets a chance at some revenge Friday with a spot in the semifinals on the line. Auburn thumped the Gamecocks 101-61 on Feb. 14.

“Hopefully we’ll just play better and to some degree hopefully they won’t shoot the ball like that,” Paris said. “That would be some real bad karma if they could do that twice in a row against us.”


AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli contributed to this report.


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