The South Carolina men’s basketball team heads to LSU with a new starting lineup after a stunning home loss to Auburn on Saturday. Wednesday's game marks the beginning of a difficult stretch for a young Gamecocks squad.
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USC forward Lakeem Jackson returns to the starting lineup after missing the Auburn game with a sore left foot. The sophomore had started every game since coming to Columbia except for Senior Day last season. Without Jackson, one of the league’s best on the boards, the Gamecocks were outrebounded by Auburn.
Ramon Galloway will start in place of struggling shooting guard Brian Richardson. Galloway started for Jackson against Auburn and scored a team-high 20 points. Galloway, a sophomore, started six games last season.
Richardson has started every game this season. He won the job after Galloway broke his foot shortly before practice began in October. But Richardson, a freshman from North Carolina, has made as many baskets in his past 12 games (20) as he did in his first seven contests. Richardson went from shooting 45.5 percent in the first seven games to 26.3 percent since.
Meanwhile, reserve guard Stephen Spinella, who missed all five of his shots against Auburn, is out with an illness. The sophomore has played sparingly since the SEC season began.
Over the next four weeks, the Gamecocks play six of their final 10 SEC games on the road. That’s the same number of away games USC has played in the first 13 weeks of the season.
USC is 2-4 on the road, though its last trip ended with a win at Florida. Coach Darrin Horn is 6-12 in SEC road games since coming to South Carolina and 9-19 in all road games.
Regardless of where the team is playing, “We’ve got to make sure that we’re focused on playing with great energy and effort and toughness and being unselfish,” Horn said. “We’ve done that and beat two top-25 teams in our own division, one on the road. The challenge is the consistency of that.”
Horn is waiting to see how his team responds to the 79-64 loss to Auburn. The team practiced at 6 a.m. Monday.
“How long (the message) sticks and lasts? I don’t know,” Horn said. “I’m as curious as you all are at how many times is that going to have to happen before they get it.”
But there’s hope. Horn recalled how the team responded last month to a loss at Alabama by winning in Gainesville.
“The (next) step is understanding it for yourself and not always being dictated by the coach or the circumstances,” he said.
Guard Bruce Ellington said he was not surprised the coaches held a pre-sunrise practice after how USC played. “I think everybody got the message,” he said.
LSU’s tough season
With a roster that includes no seniors, LSU has struggled this season. The Tigers have lost four straight SEC contests by an average of 28 points a game.
LSU also has been dealing with injuries. Guard Ralston Turner, the team’s leading scorer, played his first SEC game against Alabama on Saturday. Rusty after recovering from a foot injury, the freshman scored four points in 20 minutes. The Tigers’ leading rebounder, junior forward Storm Warren, remains day-to-day with an Achilles injury.
LSU coach Trent Johnson said he is not taking anything away from Auburn’s upset of USC.
“Auburn is a lot different than we are,” he said. “They’re much more explosive on the perimeter. We have our problems handling pressure and trying to keep people in front of us. It’s about us being aggressive and knocking down open shots as opposed to worrying what one team did against another team.”