Just out of reach: No. 1 South Carolina lives up to its billing with fourth-quarter comeback to top No. 9 LSU

TIgers unable keep pace after All-American Angel Reese fouls out in fourth quarter

LSU's Aneesah Morrow (24), who led the Tigers with 16 points, shoots over South Carolina's Chloe Kitts during Thursday's SEC game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

The agonizing look on the face of LSU guard Flau’jae Johnson spoke volumes.

“We were almost there,” she said.

Ninth-ranked LSU, playing before a standing room crowd and ESPN College GameDay, led by as many as 11 points in the first half, and was deadlocked with top-ranked South Carolina until the visiting Gamecocks grabbed the lead for good with 1:11 remaining and pulled away for a 76-70 victory Thursday.

The crowd of 13,205 fans at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center was the eighth largest in school history.

“There’s a lot of talent on both sides,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “A possession here, maybe we would have won it.  A possession there, maybe we would have won it.  But they made the plays to win it. It was just toughness.”

South Carolina (18-0, 6-0 in SEC) extended its regular season winning streak to 65 games, including 28 straight on the road and 15 consecutive against LSU. The Gamecocks also took their nation’s best fifth victory over a ranked opponent.

“We’re going to play for 40 minutes no matter what the score is,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “No matter if we’re down double digits or up double digits big. We try and respect the game. We try and respect our opponents and try and figure out a way to close the gap.”

LSU (18-3, 5-2) had its regular season home winning streak snapped at 33 games.

First team All-America forward Angel Reese fouled out with 4:02 left and the Tigers clinging to a 67-65 lead.

Bree Hall, who scored eight of her points in the fourth quarter, made both of her free throws after Reese’s foul, and LSU’s Hailey Van Lith tied the game for the fourth time at 70-all on a 3-point basket with 1:40 left.

Six-foot-seven center Kamilla Cardosa found Hall open in the corner for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:11 to go and the Gamecocks built their biggest lead by reeling off the last six points of the game.

LSU missed 3-point attempts from Van Lith and Mikaylah Williams in the last minute.

The Tigers, who shot 44.8% (30 of 67) from the field, had five players in double figures with Aneesah Morrow leading the way with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds. Reese followed with 15 points and 8 rebounds, Van Lith 13, Williams 12 points, four rebounds and team-best six assists, and Flau’jae Johnson 10.

“When you don’t have Angel Reese on the floor the last four minutes it takes you out of your rhythm,” Mulkey said. “It takes you out of your confidence zone.”

LSU, which leads the nation in free throws attempted per game (30) and free throws made per game (22), was just 4 of 9 and was outrebounded, 39-37.

“They make their money off offensive rebounds, putbacks and free throws,” Staley said. “We did a good job with that.”

Sophomore Chloe Kitts’ 14 points topped five players from South Carolina in double digits. Johnson added 13, Te-Hina Paopao 12, Cardoso 11 points and 8 rebounds and Hall with 10. The Gamecocks shot 47.7% (31 of 67) from the floor.

“I’m not into morale victories. Never have been,” Mulkey said. “We had opportunities to win this game and we didn’t. I’m extremely proud of LSU and the atmosphere and what we created here in three years now. It doesn’t get any better than what you experienced tonight.”

South Carolina, which outscored LSU 40-29 in the second half, pulled even at 61-all with 6:26 left in the game on Paopao’s two free throws.

The lead changed hands three times and was tied twice more – the last time with 1:40 to play on Van Lith’s 3-pointer.

Just before that sequence LSU encountered a difficult blow when Reese fouled out, trying to help on Raven Johnson’s drive to the goal. Without Reese to contend with for the last four minutes of play, the Gamecocks eventually pulled away for the six-point victory.

Reese played just over three minutes in the final quarter and didn’t score a point or grab a rebound.

“It was huge to get Angel out of the game,” Staley said.

South Carolina got within a point of LSU on three occasions, only for the Tigers to respond and maintain the lead they had since the 8:28 mark of the first quarter.

Cardoso scored six points in the third quarter, including an inside basket against Aalyah Del Rosario with 2:53 to play in the quarter. LSU countered when reserve guard Last-Tear Poa scored on a drive and Flau’jae Johnson added a field throw and Van Lith a basket in transition to lead 56-52 heading to the fourth quarter.

The biggest development for LSU, though, was Reese picking up her fourth foul and having to go to the bench for the last 3:43 of the third quarter.

“Experience,” Flau’jae Johnson said of Reese’s absence. “That was a big hit for us. We had four minutes left. It was too much time not to have Angel Reese on the floor. Then we had turnovers. See what you get.”

For the second time in the first half South Carolina ended the quarter with a 3-pointer when freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley knocked in a trifecta before the buzzer, making LSU’s halftime lead, 41-36.

“I think we needed a game like this,” Johnson said “We had the lead going into the half. At the end of each quarter, we gave up 3s and we lost by six. Tightening up on things like that.”

LSU established its biggest lead of 11 points on six different occasions in the first half, the last taking place at 41-30 on Johnson basket with 2:04 to go before the break.

Fulwiley scored all eight of her points in the last 3:48 of the quarter, converting a steal into a driving layup along with a pair of 3-pointers.

LSU regained a 41-30 lead when Van Lith came up with a steal and fed Johnson for a layup and Johnson answered with a 3-pointer on an assist from Williams that forced Staley to take a timeout with 1:19 left.

The Gamecocks scored the last six points on Cardoso’s three-point play, her first points of the half, followed by Fulwiley’s 3-pointer.

Morrow scored 10 of her team’s first 12 points in the first five minutes of the opening quarter, including her second 3-pointer.

LSU continually made it hard for South Carolina to get Cardoso the ball, forcing three turnovers, and the Tigers opened a 21-11 lead on Williams’ 17-foot jumper. After Van Lith missed a pair of free throws, Reese got the offensive rebound and found Van Lith for a 3-pointer and 24-13 lead with just under a minute showing.

“It was a game of runs,” Staley said. “We made big plays; they made big plays. It was the team that made the last play was the one that was going to win this basketball game.”

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