South Carolina knew it would have a matchup problem with LSU’s pillars in the post. Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey, lugging a combined 476 pounds and standing 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-8 respectively, wouldn’t be pushed around by the Gamecocks’ collection of lithe athletes.
They should have worried about the other guy.
As O’Bryant and Mickey were held in check for the first 30 minutes, freshman Jarell Martin scored a team-high 18 points Saturday, propelling the Tigers to a 71-68 win. Martin kept LSU (10-4, 1-1 SEC) ahead or close behind until the final 10 minutes, when he turned the game over to the rest of the team as the taller, heavier and more physical Tigers wore out USC.
The Gamecocks trimmed the lead to five with 2:11 to go, but more missed opportunities spelled another close loss. As in its league-opening defeat to Florida, USC deserved credit for battling, turning a decided game into a fingernail-chewing affair.
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“The bottom line, it’s just a loss,” point guard Ty Johnson said. “They just beat us. They out-rebounded us on the offensive glass, defensive rebounds. We just got to find a way to close games like this.”
The Tigers nearly have a scout team defensive line on their roster, and they used it to muscle the Gamecocks (7-8, 0-2) into fouls and poor shots. Six USC players — including starters Duane Notice, Demetrius Henry and Mindaugas Kacinas — had two first-half fouls and missed chunks of the game.
Yet LSU couldn’t take a significant lead, due to freshman Sindarius Thornwell. With almost no help, Thornwell shook off an inconsistent six-game stretch to score 13 first-half points, driving to the rim and draining 3-pointers. He finished with a career-high 25 as only two other Gamecocks finished in double figures.
“He’s got to be more on attack mode offensively, we’ve been harping that to him, and he was that today,” coach Frank Martin said.
Trailing by 14 with 5:45 to go, the game looked over. USC scored nine straight points to get the deficit to five and regroup. USC couldn’t allow more penetration, had to get a rebound and had to take smart shots.
The Gamecocks didn’t do any of them.
Johnson passed up an open 3-pointer to drive, and his one-handed floater didn’t have enough strength to get beyond the front of the rim. He fouled Anthony Hickey, who made two free throws.
Brenton Williams banged a 3-pointer home, but Jaylen Shaw was whistled for an intentional foul on O’Bryant, and he made one free throw. He rebounded his own miss and was fouled again for one more shot. He grabbed yet another board when Hickey missed a free throw.
Johnson hit a layup to get it to 69-64, but following a turnover, he went to the rim and was fouled. He missed his first free throw, made the second, but the Gamecocks had to foul.
Williams’ buzzer-beating 3 made the score a one-possession game. The Gamecocks, who had a surprisingly vocal crowd, felt they let the fans, and themselves, down.
USC was out-rebounded 42-32, and for the second straight game, Johnson (the point guard) had the most rebounds. When LSU blocked some early shots, the Gamecocks’ guards became tentative. USC had no production from its forwards.
“We got out-toughed at the rim by freshmen. That’s unacceptable. Our inside play is atrocious right now,” Martin said.
He said he would ask for more strength and patience at church on Sunday, and come back ready to go at Monday’s practice.
“There won’t be gloom and doom,” Martin said. “It’ll be optimistic about what the next step is. If anyone comes in our practice with that attitude, them and me are going to have a bad day.”
Note: Wiliams’ streak of consecutive free throws ended at 50 midway through the second half. He made the first of two shots but the second rimmed out. The 50 is a school record.
Hickey 0-6 2-4 2, O'Bryant III 4-9 5-10 13, Coleman 1-6 2-2 5, Morgan 3-10 2-5 8, Mickey 6-10 1-2 13, Stringer 2-4 3-4 9, Martin 5-6 7-8 18, Odo 0-0 0-0 0, Quarterman 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 22-56 22-35 71.
SOUTH CAROLINA (7-8)
Thornwell 9-13 6-9 25, Williams 3-13 3-4 11, Notice 0-0 0-0 0, Henry 0-1 0-0 0, Kacinas 0-2 4-6 4, Johnson 4-13 6-8 15, Shaw 1-1 2-2 4, Chatkevicius 1-1 0-0 2, Carrera 2-3 1-3 5, Ringer 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 20-48 24-34 68.
Halftime_LSU 32-30. 3-Point Goals_LSU 5-18 (Stringer 2-4, Martin 1-1, Quarterman 1-1, Coleman 1-4, Hickey 0-4, Morgan 0-4), South Carolina 4-11 (Williams 2-7, Johnson 1-1, Thornwell 1-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_LSU 42 (O'Bryant III 7), South Carolina 32 (Johnson, Ringer, Thornwell 5). Assists_LSU 13 (Morgan 4), South Carolina 10 (Johnson 3). Total Fouls_LSU 24, South Carolina 28. Attendance: 12,071.