COLUMBIA, S.C. – The 20th-ranked South Carolina men’s basketball team finds itself in a tie for first place in the SEC after picking up a big home win Wednesday night over LSU, 94-83. Both offenses locked horns in the second half, but 14 second-half points from Michael Carrera and a game-high 24 points from Sindarius Thornwell made the difference as the team remained unbeaten on its home court.
The Gamecocks (21-3, 8-3 SEC) took a big hit early after Carrera picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of the game. With the senior forced to watch from the bench, Carolina relied on the trio of Thornwell, Duane Notice and Mindaugas Kacinas to carry them against the Tigers.
LSU (15-9, 8-3) held an early 5-4 lead after a 3 from Antonio Blakeny, but a key turnover sparked a 10-2 run that swung the half in favor of the home side. Holding on to an 8-7 lead with 16:04 to play, Mindaugas Kacinas hit a corner three to push it to a two-possession advantage. As the Tigers went to push the ball up the court off the inbounds pass, Duane Notice snagged a steal and found the ball again after a few passes around the perimeter, hitting another 3 for the team’s biggest lead of the half at 14-7.
Four straight missed field goals from the Gamecocks helped LSU claw back to 20-all just five minutes later. When it ran its offense, LSU seemingly could not miss in the opening 13 minutes of action. In that span, the Tigers made 5-of-8 3s and shot 9-of-15 overall to overcome six turnovers.
The Gamecocks were able to push back ahead by five, 34-29, after a jumper for Notice. That two-possession advantage would hold for the remainder of the period, as both teams felt the bite from fouls and lost key players. Including Carrera’s early exit, eight of the game’s 10 starters sat meaningful minutes and the offenses would bear the brunt of it. LSU would make just 2-of-12 shots in the final six minutes, Carolina 2-of-6.
Thornwell led the Gamecocks with 11 first-half points and the team shot 42 percent from the field. The Tigers made a nearly identical percentage from the field, but hit just 5-of-14 shots at the free throw line. They made up for that with six 3s, despite entering the night averaging just 6.2 per game as a team.
Ben Simmons tore out of the locker room and scored his team’s first seven points out of the break, but the Gamecocks answered back with a group effort. Carrera hit a 3 to start Carolina’s scoring for the half, and Notice knocked down a pair from deep to immediately answer baskets from LSU. Behind Simmons and a pair of 3s from Keith Hornsby, though, the Tigers brought the game even again at 58 with 11 minutes to go, and Carolina began to feel the lingering effects from the first-half fouls.
Just past the halfway point in the second half, Kacinas, Chris Silva and Laimonas Chatkevicius all sat with four fouls and Carrera and PJ Dozier were stuck with three. The fouls forced Carolina to dig deep into its bench, with Jamall Gregory, Raymond Doby and Eric Cobb pressed into service in a tight game.
Doby came through with a big stretch when the team needed him most, first by picking off a passing and lobbing it ahead to a streaking Dozier. He added a pair of free throws on the next possession, and converted a three-point play after that to help the Gamecocks hang on to a 72-66 lead with seven minutes to play.
His efforts came in a span of divine basketball from both sides. The Gamecocks hit six-straight shots over a span of three minutes, and the Tigers countered with four straight in the same span. Of those six Carolina field goals, three would be successful three-point plays. Both teams would take their best shot at the same time, and the Gamecocks weathered it to hold an 82-78 lead with two minutes to play.
Still holding the crucial two-shot lead (85-81) with a minute left in regulation, it would be up to the home side’s press break and free throw shooting to close out the win. It would execute to near-perfection, forcing two turnovers in the final 35 seconds and making 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch to seal the key win.
LSU tied the game up at 60 with nine minutes left in the second half, touching off a furious six-minute stretch where the two teams combined to score 36 points. The Gamecocks were forced into an undersized and inexperienced lineup due to foul trouble, but PJ Dozier and Raymond Doby stepped up in a big way, scoring 15 points in that window of time to help Carolina overcome a red-hot LSU offense that made six-straight field goals in that span.
On a night where both teams were plagued by fouls, the Gamecock bench made a big difference when pressed into service. Carolina’s six reserves outscored LSU’s 31-14 for the game, led by Duane Notice’s 15 points.
South Carolina continues home action when it hosts No. 22/21 Kentucky on Saturday at Colonial Life Arena. Game time is set for Noon ET on ESPN with Tom Hart (play-by- play), Kara Lawson (analyst) and Kaylee Hartung (sidelines) on the call. The Gamecocks look for their first win vs. the Wildcats since the 2014 season.
- The 21 wins and eight in conference play are the most since 2008-09. This is Carolina’s first win over LSU since 2013, the Tigers had won the previous three meetings.
- The team’s 94 points in the win are the most scored in the series since putting up 106, which coincidentally also came on February 10 (of 1996).
- PJ Dozier had one of his best games in SEC play, finishing with 12 points, three assists and zero turnovers. He would score 10 second-half points to give him his first game with double-digit points since getting 11 against Missouri.
- The offense racked up 94 points, matching a season high. As a team, Carolina shot 55 percent (17-of-31) in the second half and made 4-of-8 3-pointers.