South Carolina’s P.J. Dozier outshined likely No. 1 NBA Draft pick Ben Simmons in a 94-83 win over LSU on Wednesday, guiding the Gamecocks into a share of first place in the SEC. Dozier, like Simmons a McDonald’s All-American last year, scored 10 of his 12 points in one sizzling second-half spurt, turning a tie game with nine minutes to go into another Gamecock win.
“I know, personally, I can put the ball in the basket,” Dozier said. “We have so many offensive scoring threats, so when it comes down to a late-game situation like that, we just have confidence we can make the shot. I was the lucky one tonight.”
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It was more than luck – it was guts, USC (21-3, 8-3 SEC) surviving another late-game rally with most of its front line on the bench. As whistles chipped away at USC’s chances of defending the versatile Simmons – even Dozier finished with four fouls – the Gamecocks again approached the territory of Frank Martin’s first three seasons. There was never a problem with competing; it was finishing.
But once more in what’s becoming a special season, they found a way.
“Our kids just battle, battle, battle and when the game gets hard, we find a way to win,” Martin said.
USC moved into a tie for first place with LSU (which it now has a tiebreaker over) and Kentucky. The Gamecocks will host the Wildcats at noon on Saturday.
“We’re not letting the moment get to our heads,” said Sindarius Thornwell, who punctuated the win with a thunderous dunk for a game-high 24 points. “It doesn’t mean anything until you’re at the top.”
Martin said that it’s impossible for his team to not know the circumstances, but they’ll handle it. After opening his presser wondering why neither USC or LSU were in the Top 25, he talked of how USC has to earn its reputation.
Another chance awaits on Saturday.
“This is what I told them in the locker room,” Martin said. “‘Enjoy being tied for first place. But it’s not time to celebrate. It’s time to reflect on three years ago and say, ‘I don’t want to go back there.’”
The way they finished Wednesday suggests that they won’t.
The Gamecocks had a four-point lead at halftime with Simmons also in foul trouble, 3-point shooting accounting for most of LSU’s offense. Michael Carrera sat down in the first 90 seconds with two fouls but USC was finding ways to stay ahead, making free throws while the Tigers (15-9, 8-3) clanked theirs.
Simmons returned in the second half and immediately let it be known that he was going to take over, and the Gamecocks had no answer. Every USC big was sitting down so Martin turned to freshmen Eric Cobb and Raymond Doby as a stop-gap, hoping it would be enough until he could get other height in for the waning minutes.
Dozier made sure it wouldn’t be a futile gesture. The freshman shaked and baked for a step-back jumper with a foul, sinking the and-1. Doby grabbed a loose ball and fed the streaking Dozier, who laid it in. Doby made two free throws after Dozier threw him a dart and he was fouled, then Dozier hit another shot just inside the arc.
“That dribble-weave stuff we were running, they were set up for him,” Martin said. “Game of this magnitude, this level, I’m putting the ball in his hands, saying, ‘Alright, we’re gonna run this stuff, it’s coming back to you. Go.’”
Dozier did, pushing the Gamecocks to a nine-point lead with 5:30 to go and then letting the old reliables take over. Carrera, Thornwell and Duane Notice were running under Simmons and the rest of LSU’s beasts in the paint and the Tigers couldn’t get the 3s that had dropped so effortlessly in the first half.
Simmons finished with 20, six rebounds, six assists and two blocks. The Gamecocks wished him well while he complimented Dozier.
“He hit some big shots late,” Simmons said. “He’s a good player.”
Dozier’s step-back jumper to break the 60-60 tie ended a stretch where USC was working too hard for a missed inside shot or one free throw at a time. From that point, the Gamecocks could hardly miss.
Star of the game: Dozier didn’t lead the team in points, but he had the most valuable contribution.
Play of the game: Dozier and Simmons went for a rebound with 43 seconds to go and it went off Simmons and out of bounds. Dozier tried for it despite having four fouls and knowing the NBA entrant was going to get every close call.
Stat of the game: USC out-rebounded a taller, heavier team 36-33, with 24 on the defensive end, despite having most of its front line on the bench in foul trouble.
FROM THE BASELINE
Again with this: I keep asking in different ways and getting different answers. USC is so bad at defending 3s because; Lost him on a switch, playing good shooters, getting screened off, etc.
I think the various answers are because nobody wants to say, “Dave, we just can’t do it.”
USC cannot guard a 3-pointer. Just can’t do it. Sometimes shots go – Keith Hornsby had one that kicked a mile off back rim, straight up and through. Most of the time, as USC has found out, it’s because players drive, USC collapses on them, they kick to the wing and there’s a wide-open shot. No matter if the shooter shoots 19 percent or 99 percent, leaving him wide-open isn’t a good idea.
The Gamecocks have allowed 103 3s in 11 league games. I haven’t gone back to separate the wide-open kick-outs because I don’t want to know the answer.
But they do keep winning.
It’s all happening: Title. Postseason. It’s all there to be had. The Gamecocks’ attitude about it is, “Talk about it when it gets here.”
Who: South Carolina vs. No. 22 Kentucky
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
SOUTH CAROLINA 94, LSU 83
LSU (15-9): Blakeney 8-14 2-4 22, Hornsby 5-11 1-2 14, Simmons 8-12 4-9 20, Victor II 1-4 4-4 6, Quarterman 2-7 3-4 7, Sampson 0-2 0-0 0, Robinson III 1-1 0-0 2, Gray 2-6 0-1 4, Patterson 2-2 0-0 6, Bridgewater 0-2 2-4 2, Epps 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-61 16-28 83.
SOUTH CAROLINA (21-3): Thornwell 6-15 11-14 24, Dozier 5-11 2-2 12, Carrera 6-9 3-4 16, Kacinas 2-5 1-2 6, Silva 2-3 1-3 5, Stroman 0-0 3-4 3, Doby 1-2 3-3 5, Gregory 1-2 0-0 2, Notice 5-10 1-2 15, Chatkevicius 2-5 2-2 6, Cobb 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-62 27-36 94.
Halftime—South Carolina 39-35. 3-Point Goals—LSU 9-21 (Blakeney 4-6, Hornsby 3-7, Patterson 2-2, Sampson 0-1, Quarterman 0-5), South Carolina 7-19 (Notice 4-8, Kacinas 1-1, Carrera 1-2, Thornwell 1-5, Chatkevicius 0-1, Dozier 0-2). Fouled Out—Kacinas, Quarterman, Silva, Victor II. Rebounds—LSU 33 (Quarterman, Simmons 6), South Carolina 36 (Carrera, Kacinas, Thornwell 6). Assists—LSU 16 (Simmons 6), South Carolina 16 (Thornwell 5). Total Fouls—LSU 30, South Carolina 26. A—16,009.