Cooke scores 1,000th point, Carolina falls

Malik Cooke scored 17 points - surpassing the 1,000 point plateau in the process - in Saturday's contest against LSU, but it was the Tigers who used a 12-3 run midway through the second half to walk away with a 68-58 victory in the Colonial Life Arena.

It was not a pretty game. LSU will take it.

South Carolina and LSU both shot under 50% from the floor, combined for 27 turnovers and committed 34 fouls in Saturday's SEC contest, but it was the Tigers who came out on top with a 68-58 win at the Colonial Life Arena.

Justin Hamilton led all scorers with 18 points and made all eight of his free throws to lead the Tigers, who improved to 16-10 overall and 6-6 in the SEC. Storm Warren added 12 points and Anthony Hickey had 10.

"In the second half we got down a little bit early, then made a terrific run and had some momentum going.," head coach Darrin Horn said. "When the technical was called that affected our guys after they went and scored a couple of times after that. Ultimately that's an excuse but I think that was tough for us to overcome. Their bigs played extremely well and hit some key shots when they had to, and they made free throws down the stretch when they needed to make them.

Malik Cooke scored 17 points – including his 1,000th career collegiate point that spans between Nevada and Carolina – to lead the Gamecocks, who fell to 10-16 overall and 2-10 in SEC play.

"In a word, steady," Horn said of the Senior's play. "When you score 1,000 points – unless you're a guy that's putting up 18 points a night – it speaks to his consistency over a career and he has been that for us this year, especially in a difficult season where there are a lot of challenges and not as many wins as you want. He's really focused and done a really good job of leading these guys and being vocal and setting a tone every day. He's been really outstanding with that."

Brenton Williams, Carolina's 5'11 guard, got the ball out in front of everyone after a Lakeem Jackson steal and showed the crowd his athletic ability with a dunk that cut LSU's lead to 38-36 with 11:37 left in the game. The dunk ignited the Gamecock crowd, but Williams hung onto the rim for a little too long and was called for a technical. That would begin a 12-3 LSU run that stretched the lead to double figures with just 7:39 left in the game.

"I didn't really see it; I had no idea what happened," Horn said. "I was kind of on to the next play. I thought they had called timeout and had to be told they made the call."

The Gamecocks would hang around and make a late push, thanks to senior Malik Cooke. Cooke hit back-to-back three pointers trimmed the lead to 56-52 with 3:18 left to play, but a Justin Hamilton put back, followed by a Gamecock turnover and Ralston Turner three pointer quickly pushed the lead to 61-52 to effectively put the game out of reach for the final time.

"The biggest thing was Storm Warren made some huge shots; just rose up and hit some big shots," Horn said. "We maybe could have defended better but two of them were turn-arounds from 15 feet. Hamilton had a couple of huge put backs on the glass. Those are things you can't allow to happen. You have to get those stops. They made some shots when they had a chance. Credit them for making some of those plays."

In the first half, LSU was able to build an early lead with a string of three-pointers while South Carolina was struggling from the field. The Tigers jumped out to a 15-8 lead after hitting 3 of their first 5 three-point attempts while the Gamecocks were shooting under 40% from the floor.

Carolina would begin attacking the basket and getting points in the paint – scoring 12 inside the paint in the half – and turned up the pressure defensively to make a run. LSU was held scoreless for 4:03 and committed five of their 11 turnovers in a 10-0 Gamecock run to give Carolina an 18-15 lead. LSU would overcome the run to take a 25-22 lead into the locker room, despite the Gamecocks outshooting the Tigers, 44% to 39%.

"I thought in the first half, especially with Malik in foul trouble, we did some really good things, especially on the defensive end," Horn said. "We were really active, forcing turnovers, changing our defense up and we were able to create some positive things."

LSU would reverse turn the table in the second half, outshooting the Gamecocks, 56% to 50%. The Tigers relied heavily on their height advantage in the second half, something they failed to do in the first half. After being outscored by Carolina in the first half, 14-4, the Tigers outscored the Gamecocks 20-12 in the second. Hamilton scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half.

Carolina returns to action Wednesday night when it travels to Vanderbilt for an 8:00 tip before playing its final two home games against Tennessee and Mississippi State.

"We have to play better, period," Horn said. "We have to coach better, we have to play better. Damontre Harris had three turnovers in the first half and they didn't even trap him; he just kind of handed the ball to the other team. We only had five offensive rebounds. When you look down the list of the people we need to rebound the ball they don't have offensive rebounds. When those kinds of things happen it's going to be tough."

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