The final score read 67-58 in favor of South Carolina.
LSU was outrebounded 37-27.
Devan Downey, the Gamecocks’ go-to senior on the floor, recorded a game-high 29 points, 10 more than Storm Warren, LSU’s leading scorer.
Yet, don’t sell the Tigers short.
It wasn’t all USC, all night.
In the first half, the Tigers had their way with the Gamecocks down low, a team that lost two of their top forwards (Dominique Archey and Mike Holmes) before the month of December.
On the opposite end of the floor, LSU was also able to silence a USC attack built on speed-first.
“We got Bo [Spencer] in middle, he got to a good, controlled stop and dropped it to Storm for a dunk,” Johnson said. “That’s where our points in the paint came, because we handled the press.
“[Defensively] We slowed the tempo down and forced them to make more passes and play along the perimeter,” he added. “The big problem you have with the zone is you can’t put a body on someone and block out. That is why we got outrebounded.”
Thanks to an ill-timed turnover by Spencer with just four seconds to play in the first half, Downey dropped a three-point shot as time expired to cut the Tiger lead to eight.
While LSU had their chances to pull away from USC through the first 10 minutes of the second half, a string of missed opportunities allowed the home team to crawl back into the frame.
“We came out and had good looks,” Johnson said. “It was, for me, different. Guys were throwing the ball away. It’s the same 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s that we had in the first half, we just didn’t execute. When you are in space and all you have to do is catch it and be slow and strong, that is on you. We had those opportunities throughout the second half with the exception of those last ten minutes.”
Low-percentage looks, especially those taken before winding down the shot clock, hit the Tigers hard.
“I have to continue to teach, especially with Bo, that in the first half he made good decisions getting into the middle, changing the pace and getting a midrange jumper instead of getting on that right baseline and shooting a floater, which is a bad shot,” Johnson said. “Then they go the other way because he can’t get back on defense.
“Bo and Tasmin [Mitchell] both have been in situations where they have taken bad shots, but they have to stay aggressive,” he added. “I always say that when you shoot a good percentage and are in a good rhythm, your light is green. There were situations last night where both Tasmin and Bo took bad shots, but I also felt both were doing too much.”
LSU hops on a plane for Gainesville, Fla. on Friday afternoon, where the Tigers will take on the Gators – another team that is winless in the conference – on Saturday night.
“We have to build on it from the standpoint of the first 25-30 minutes, and come out with that same mental approach,” Johnson said. “We are making a concerted effort, which is hard for this team with their mental toughness, but it is a process, and one that is taking its toll on a lot of people.”