LSU (9-7, 0-2) knew that South Carolina would bring a stingy press defense, the Gamecocks best solution to their lack of big men down low (forwards Dominique Archie (knee) and Mike Holmes (dismissed) are done for the season).
Early on, it appeared that the Tigers might have USC head coach Darrin Horn’s team figured out.
Much like in their losses to Boston College and Baylor, the Gamecocks gave up uncontested shots by way of layups and dunks, which resulted in 15 first half points for sophomore forward Storm Warren.
However, the game turned when LSU guard Bo Spencer turned the ball over with four seconds to play in the first half.
Down 35-24, a three-point shot from USC guard Devan Downey as time expired cut the Tiger lead to eight.
For the 5-foot-9 Downey – who scored 33 points against Auburn last Saturday and finished with 29 points on Wednesday – the momentum carried through to the second half.
“He made some things happen defensively and made some tough shots,” said LSU head coach Trent Johnson. “Little guy plays a big game.”
After the Gamecocks took their first lead since early in the first half on Downey’s jumper with 7:55 remaining, the home team reeled off an 8-0 run that helped give USC a four-point lead.
LSU was able to break USC’s streak when Dennis Harris knocked down one of two free throws, but Downey and the Gamecocks answered with an 80-second, 9-0 run that buried the Tigers for good.
“The last 10 minutes has been our Achilles’ heel,” Johnson said. “South Carolina wants to speed you up, but I can recall three situations where we got 3-on-1 or 2-on-1 on the back line just like we did in the first half, and we didn’t execute.
“Our margin of error is we don’t have it,” he added. “We’re 16 games into the season and we have to start finding a way to get it done.”
Warren led all Tiger scorers with 19 points, while Tasmin Mitchell added 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
“This is three games in a row where we’ve been against some type of pressure,” Johnson said. “McNeese State and Alabama don’t come at you like South Carolina. You can’t simulate the kind of quickness that a certain team has.”LSU remains winless on the road this season (0-5). The Tigers will be back in action on Saturday in Gainesville against conference foe Florida.