LSU remains in tie for first in SEC
By TIGER RAG NEWS SERVICES
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Antonio Blakeney scored 22 points and Ben Simmons added 20 but it wasn’t enough as South Carolina tied a season-high for points in its 94-83 win over LSU in a Southeastern Conference contest between the top two teams in the league standings here Wednesday night at Colonial Life Arena.
With the win, South Carolina improves to 21-3 overall and moves into a first place tie with LSU and Kentucky in the league standings at 8-3. LSU stands at 15-9 overall.
“It was a very competitive game against a very talented and tough team,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “They’ve done a great job and there’s a reason why they are undefeated at home with a great record and sitting tied atop of the league standings.
“I thought we had ample opportunities tonight to make some plays down the stretch. Antonio (Blakeney) I thought was hot and making plays and (Keith) Hornsby, when he had good looks, was making plays. We have to make sure that we don’t take chances. We had guys taking too many chances, trying to make plays, when all they had to do was get the ball to the guys who were making shots.”
“You can’t give up 94 points and expect to win.”
– LSU head coach Johnny Jones
The game was much closer than the final scored indicated as the Tigers trailed by four points with a chance to cut into the lead on three separate occasions during the final 1:53 of the game. Down 82-78 and with the ball following a missed free throw by the Gamecocks, LSU’s Tim Quarterman couldn’t get his 3-point attempt to fall on the Tigers’ next possession.
After the Gamecocks extended the lead to six, 84-78, on a pair of three throws, LSU’s Blakeney got the Tigers back to within four at 84-80 with two free throws of his own at the 1:16 mark.
The Gamecocks again stretched the lead to five points, 85-80, on a Sindarius Thornwell free throw at the 1:09 mark. Simmons was fouled on LSU’s next possession, making 1-of-2 free throws, pulling the Tigers to within 85-81 with 57 seconds left.
That was as close as the Tigers would get as South Carolina made 7-of-8 free throws and LSU turned the ball over on consecutive possessions during the final 42 seconds as the Gamecocks held on for the win.
“We didn’t manage it like we needed to down the stretch to be as effective as we needed to against a very good team,” Jones said. “You can’t make mistakes down the stretch against good teams and expect to win. Against a good team, we didn’t play to the level that we needed to in order to win.”
For the game, LSU shot 48 percent from the floor, including 9-of-21 from 3-point range. However, the Tigers struggled at the free throw line, connecting on just 16-of-28 attempts for 57 percent. South Carolina made 27-of-37 free throws for 75 percent and they connected on 48 percent from the field.
Blakeney and Hornsby combined to hit 7-of-13 3-pointers for the Tigers. Hornsby was LSU’s other double-figure scorer with 14 points.
“We go 16-of-28 for 57 percent,” Jones said of LSU’s free throws. “You get to the line early and you have to do a great job of taking advantage of that. We missed too many. They shoot 75 percent from the line and that was a big difference in the game, especially in the first half.
“If we hit our free throws in the first half, we go in (to halftime) not with a deficit but with a lead. It’s an area that we have to work to continue to get better at.”
LSU was just 5-of-14 from the free throw line in the first half and yet only trailed 39-35 at halftime. The first half featured 12 ties and lead changes.
South Carolina held onto its halftime lead for the first 10 minutes of the second half before Craig Victor tied the game at 58-58 with a pair of free throws at the 10:49 mark. The Gamecocks regained the lead at 60-58 on their next possession before another pair of Victor free throws tied the game at 60-60 with 9:05 left.
The Gamecocks extended the lead to nine points, 77-68, over the four minutes before the Tigers clawed their way back to within four, 80-76, on a Simmons free throw at the 3:01 mark. That was as close as the Tigers would get down the stretch.
“We scored 83 points,” Jones said. “That’s a lot of points. You can’t give up 94 points and expect to win. It was a great battle against a good team. We competed and played extremely hard, but you have to make sure you are playing smart as well and we just weren’t efficient as we need to be against a team like this.”
LSU returns to action on Saturday at noon in the Maravich Center, hosting Texas A&M on CBS.