Fulwiley and Self-Inflicted Turnovers Prove Too Much for Battered and Bruised LSU to Overcome in SEC Championship

Aneesah Morrow led LSU with 19 points and a double-double but turnovers and fatigue costs the Tigers in brawl-filled loss. Photo by LSU Athletics

Milaysia Fulwiley only played 16 minutes for South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship game on Sunday, but her 24 points and the chaos she was at the center of made her presence unforgettable.

Mainly because of Fulwiley and LSU’s 13 first-half turnovers that were mostly unforced, a bruised and battered No. 8 LSU was unable to mount a comeback late over No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday afternoon in Bon Secours Wellness Arena, losing 79-72 to the Gamecocks for the second time this season.

South Carolina’s win marked the Gamecocks eighth SEC Tournament Championship in the last 10 years.

“We battled with five, maybe six (totally) healthy players,” Angel Reese said. “We’re not scared. We’re in a place right now that I’m proud of and I’m happy where we are right now.”

“We’re playing some good basketball right now,” Coach Kim Mulkey echoed. “That’s just the God’s truth. They (South Carolina) have a lot of depth. One kid, basically, hurt us today and that was (MiLaysia) Fulwiley. You look at the stats, how can you not leave here and go, god I wish the playoffs started next week?”

LSU made it the furthest in the SEC Tournament it has under Coach Kim Mulkey. After winning zero games her first season in the conference tournament, the Tigers won one last year and this year won two to reach the championship. Selection Sunday is one week away and the Tigers expected to hear themselves called as one of the top-16 seeds to host NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games in the PMAC.

Through the tournament, LSU suffered some physical blows that left LSU shorthanded and not at full strength. Reese spun her right ankle on Friday and Aneesah Morrow suffered a black eye in the same game. Flau’Jae Johnson battled some cramps throughout the tournament and Hailey Van Lith Lith took her fair share of licks in three games in three days. Mikaylah Williams did not play Friday or Saturday and was only able to play limited minutes on Sunday. On Saturday, Last-Tear Poa suffered a concussion and was taken off on a stretcher – she watched Sunday’s game from the team hotel after undergoing tests and getting released from the hospital last night. The Tigers battled a lot of adversity throughout the weekend, but showed their toughness over and over.

“We’re pretty darn tough,” Mulkey said she learned from her team this weekend. “Resilient. They have each other’s back. Didn’t get rattled. Fought through some adversity with Poa’s injury last night to get to this point.”

Aneesah Morrow, black eye and all, led LSU with 19 points and 10 rebounds for her 19th double-double of the season. Angel Reese, swollen ankle and all, earned her 12th straight double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Her performance on Sunday marks her 23rd double-double of the season.

Hailey Van Lith added 14 points on 5-of-11 from the field and two 3s. Flau’jae Johnson finished with 13 points, including two 3s.

Freshman Janae Kent started for LSU for the first time in her career, joining regular starters of Reese, Johnson, Van Lith, and Morrow. Kent replaced Last-Tear Poa who suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter of the semifinal win over Ole Miss on Saturday.

Fulwiley led South Carolina (32-0) with 24 points while Te-Hina Paopao added 12 points to go with five assists. Bree Hall and Raven Johnson finished with nine points each for the Gamecocks, who won their eighth SEC Tournament title in the past 10 years.

LSU got off to a quick start as Morrow scored six points early to give LSU a 13-7 edge at the first media timeout.

LSU was scoreless after the run for over three minutes while South Carolina cut LSU’s lead to one. Paopao gave South Carolina its first lead of the game, on a fast-break turnover with 30 seconds to play in the quarter. The Gamecocks made two free throws to finish the first quarter leading 18-15.

Morrow and Kent each hit early three-pointers to start the second as LSU looked to chip away at South Carolina’s lead. After Raven Johnson made a 3 for the Gamecocks, LSU’s Johnson hit a triple of her own for her first points of the afternoon. LSU held South Carolina scoreless for over four minutes through the middle portion of the second quarter, trimming South Carolina’s to three points before a Watkins’ layup ended the Gamecock drought. Van Lith knocked down a three in the waning seconds of the half to bring the Tigers within four, 36-32, at halftime.

South Carolina went on 10-1 run to give the Gamecocks their first double figure lead of the day.

LSU adjusted by going to its big lineup. Reese snapped the run with a second-chance layup that was followed by a three-point play from Aalyah Del Rosario.

South Carolina led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but LSU trimmed the lead to six by the end of the third quarter, 59-53.

Twice in the fourth quarter, South Carolina went back up by 10 points, first with 7:45 left to play on a shot by Ashlyn Watkins to make it, 65-55, and then Paopao hit a leaner in the paint to make 67-57 with 7:10 left in the game.

But Van Lith then sparked a 9-0 LSU run, scoring five straight and LSU moved within one, 67-66, with 4:36 remaining on Johnson’s two free throws. 

South Carolina then ran off six straight points and led 73-66 with 2:08 to play when Fulwiley stole the ball in the backcourt from Johnson and Johnson intentionally fouled Fulwiley to prevent a breakaway basket.

Tempers flared, words were exchanged, and then Kamilla Cardoso rushed towards to Johnson near the scorer’s table, busted through a referee, shoved Johnson to the floor and all hell broke loose.

It could have been worse, the melee, that is. But both coaching staffs, along with security on hand, gained control quickly.

The benches did clear, though, and all bench players were ejected along with Cardoso (for fighting) for the remainder of the game. Cardoso will also be suspended for South Carolina’s first-round NCAA Tournament game. All other suspended players from both teams will be allowed to play in the NCAA first round game.

For the final 2:08, LSU played with just five available players. South Carolina did have a reserve, Poapoa, who was allowed to substitute for the Gamecocks since she did not leave the bench area during the melee.

After a 20-minute delay, LSU scored three points to get within five and had a couple of opportunities to get closer but was not able to get any closer as South Carolina went 4-for-4 from the free throw line to close out the win.

LSU is currently expected to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and also expects to host a round one game in the PMAC. Selections and seedings will be announced next Sunday.

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Tiger Rag News Services

1 Comment

    Some of the pander press soft pedaled the going tribal by South Carolina basketball gals? (known for rough play)
    It was the Carolina player that CAME OF THE BENCH to physically attack (knock down an LSU player)
    One writer actually slammed the LSU coach!!
    Apparently a biased narrative was formed without even watching the game!

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