South Carolina twice made LSU sweat in the second half, but both times the Gamecocks’ surges were stopped cold in Saturday’s 68-58 loss.
Down four points with 12 minutes to play Saturday, USC made its best defensive stand of the game — hounding LSU with an array of changing zones until forward Lakeem Jackson tipped the ball away from Tigers guard Anthony Hickey.
Jackson threw the ball to 5-foot-11 guard Brenton Williams, who streaked down the court for a dunk that cut the deficit to 38-36. But the crowd’s roars turned instantly to collective moans when the referee called a technical because he thought Williams hung on the rim too long.
LSU hit the two technical free throws, and Johnny O’Bryant scored a layup on the ensuing possession as the Tigers pushed their lead to 11 points. But two Malik Cooke 3-pointers powered a run as USC again pulled within four with three minutes to go.
But on the next possession, freshman guard Damien Leonard essentially handed the ball to Hickey instead of teammate Bruce Ellington. LSU guard Ralston Turner hit a fastbreak 3-pointer after the gaffe, and the Tigers pulled away.
“It seemed like we had some momentum going, and when the technical was called, I think that affected our guys after they went and scored a couple of times,” USC coach Darrin Horn said. “I think that was tough for us to overcome.”
LSU coach Trent Johnson doesn’t understand calling technicals on dunks. “I just think there’s a side of this game where we let these guys be kids and let them enjoy it,” he said.
Horn said he did not see the play, and he could not argue the call: “At the time, my concern was exactly what happened, that we’ve got a young team that’s fighting, really kind of desperate to try to build some momentum, and it gets taken away.”
Barring a run in the SEC tournament, Horn appears headed for his third consecutive losing season in his four years at USC (10-16, 2-10 SEC). The Gamecocks were coming off their first win in three weeks after beating Georgia 57-56 on Wednesday. USC has not won consecutive games since Jan. 3.
With four regular-season games remaining, Horn said he will continue to focus on making his team better and “teaching these guys individually accountability.”
“We can practice 10 hours a day and watch as much film as we want and motivate and encourage and all those things that we want, but guys have to show up and do what they’re capable of doing,” Horn said.
His main issue Saturday was offensive rebounds. South Carolina grabbed five offensive boards against LSU despite coming into the game averaging 13, second best in the SEC. USC was outrebounded for the eighth straight game, this time by a 13 boards, tied for the most this season. The Gamecocks’ leading rebounder was the 5-foot-9 Ellington, who had seven.
USC continued to have problems defending. LSU (16-10, 6-6) shot 49 percent — becoming the 10th SEC opponent to shoot 43 percent or better against the Gamecocks this season.
South Carolina led for four minutes in the game — a period toward the end of the first half as the Gamecocks took advantage of six LSU turnovers in a span of 10 possessions. But an 8-2 run started by a 3-pointer from Hickey, a one-time USC recruit, helped LSU take a halftime lead.
Cooke led the Gamecocks with 17 points — scoring 15 in the second half after playing nine minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. He passed 1,000 points in his collegiate career at Nevada and USC.
The team’s only senior said his accomplishment would have felt better with a win.
“We have to stop making excuses for ourselves,” Cooke said. “We have to take some accountability and pride in what we are supposed doing.”
Warren 6-10 0-1 12, Hamilton 5-8 8-8 18, Hickey 3-7 2-4 10, Stringer 2-8 5-8 9, Turner 3-5 0-0 9, O'Bryant 4-9 0-0 8, Bass 0-0 0-0 0, White 0-0 0-0 0, Ludwig 0-1 0-0 0, Isaac 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 24-49 15-21 68.
SOUTH CAROLINA (10-16)
Cooke 5-11 4-7 17, Harris 2-4 4-4 8, Slawson 1-3 1-2 3, Ellington 3-12 0-0 6, Leonard 2-5 0-0 4, Williams 3-5 0-0 6, Smith 0-0 2-2 2, Gill 3-4 2-4 9, Jackson 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 20-47 14-21 58.
Halftime: LSU 25-22. 3-Point Goals: LSU 5-10 (Turner 3-4, Hickey 2-4, Stringer 0-2), South Carolina 4-17 (Cooke 3-5, Gill 1-1, Williams 0-2, Slawson 0-2, Leonard 0-2, Ellington 0-5). Fouled Out: Turner. Rebounds: LSU 35 (Warren 8), South Carolina 23 (Ellington 7). Assists: LSU 18 (Hickey 7), South Carolina 13 (Harris 3). Total Fouls: LSU 17, South Carolina 17. Technical: Williams. Attendance: 10,092.