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February 18, 2012
The play got South Carolina back in the ballgame. The call shoved it right back out.
A technical foul issued to Brenton Williams for hanging on the rim after a breakaway dunk turned a 38-36 LSU lead into a 10-2 spurt that sent the Gamecocks back to the loss column on Saturday, 68-58. Following the technical, Andre Stringer converted two free throws and Johnny O'Bryant slashed into the lane to make the lead six points, and the Tigers never looked back.
"It was a momentum-changer," leading scorer Malik Cooke said. "And that's all I got to say about it."
O'Bryant also scored the next four points and the Gamecocks, as usual, didn't have the firepower to shoot themselves back in the game. USC handled LSU's height and girth in the first half, but wore down in the second as O'Bryant, Justin Hamilton and Storm Warren went to work.
The three combined for 38 points and 21 rebounds, constantly pushing Anthony Gill around, limiting Damontre Harris' effectiveness and putting Cooke into foul trouble. With their posts out of action, the Gamecocks turned to their guards - and got the same result.
Bruce Ellington scored six points on 3-of-12 shooting while Damien Leonard had four. USC was a miserable 4-of-17 from the 3-point line and the only player that could score was Cooke, who had a team-high 17, including the 1,000th of his career.
USC (10-16, 2-10 SEC) made a run, as it usually does, but fell short. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Cooke made it 56-52 with three minutes to go, but then Hamilton got another putback against Gill, who refused to plant and flop, and Ellington turned it over.
Ralston Turner took the quick pass and never hesitated. His 3-pointer dropped through, it was 61-52 and LSU (16-10, 6-6) was back to .500 in the SEC.
Coach Darrin Horn didn't comment on the technical, saying that he didn't see it and was informed during the timeout that Williams was being issued one. But after dropping another game, the Gamecocks' confidence is beginning to shake.
"We've got to play better, period," Horn said. "We've got to coach better and we've got to play better. That's the thing that we keep coming back to. We've got to do the things that we can do."
The problem with that on Saturday was twofold. The Gamecocks again didn't get production from players they need to get production from (Ellington, Leonard, Harris with eight points but also four turnovers). They also didn't rebound, getting whipped 36-23 on the glass.
"That's an individual thing, with guys going to get rebounds, and that didn't happen today," Horn said.
Cooke, who said after a five-game losing streak before the win over Georgia that the team's belief wasn't being shaken, also seemed to be losing faith.
"We've got to stop making excuses for ourselves and take some accountability and pride in what we're doing," Cooke said.
The defense, which used a 1-3-1 to help beat Georgia, was constantly missing against LSU early as the Tigers stroked four 3-pointers. It tightened late, but the Gamecocks were too far down and LSU had already established what it wanted to do.
The Tigers ran into the lane against Gill and Harris, and pushed Gill out of the way. "I need to set my feet and take a charge," said Gill, who scored nine points. "I've got to be smarter than that."
The buckets weren't falling, but USC got back in the game. Williams' dunk had the Gamecocks there, and the technical had them back out. Ellington's turnover and Turner's 3 cemented it.
"We can practice 10 hours a day and watch as much film as we want and motivate and encourage," Horn said, "but guys have got to show up and do what they're capable of doing."
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