The Gamecocks were fairly competitive for much of the game today, but the LSU Tigers earned a fairly comfortable 68-58 win. LSU's Justin Hamilton led all scorers with 18 points, while Malik Cooke led Carolina with 17.
The game was a seesaw affair in the first half. LSU built a solid lead early on, but Carolina chipped away with great defense and steady offense throughout the middle of the period. LSU then closed with a two-point lead. In the second half, LSU retained its lead, but Carolina looked to be knocking on the door after Brenton Williams cut the lead to two with a breakaway dunk after a Lakeem Jackson steal. Then, the zebras decided to get involved, calling a technical on Williams for hanging onto the rim too long. That, in my view, ended up being a decisive moment in the game. First of all, LSU used it to build a nice point swing, making both free throws and then making a jumper on the next possession to build a six-point lead shortly after it looked like the Gamecocks were knocking on the door. Moreover, the Gamecocks played flatly for the next few minutes--it just seemed like we had the wind taken out of our sails. We did manage to get within four late in the game after two Cooke three pointers, but LSU would quickly rebuild its lead to close to ten and would whittle the game down after that.
In addition to the weird technical call, three things jump out at me as being important to the outcome of this game. First of all, after doing a decent job in the first half, we utterly failed to handle LSU's talented front line in the second half. LSU's big center, Justin Hamilton, played particularly well, scoring several baskets near the basket. Second of all, Carolina's mediocre free-throw shooting hurt it quite a bit. We got into the bonus early in the second half, but multiple missed front ends and overall lukewarm production from the line negated an opportunity to keep the game closer. Lastly, I think this game more or less confirms my impression of the UGA win--while happy for the dramatic victory, I simply don't think the formula we've used to beat Alabama and UGA is repeatable on a consistent basis. What we saw today was more of what we saw against UGA--only this time, the opponent played a bit better offense, and the result was a loss.
Frankly, I think this game more or less does the season in, if it hadn't been done in already. We really needed this one if we were to have any chance whatsoever at getting within some proximity of a .500 record. I hope we win a game or two down the stretch, but frankly, this was probably our best chance to do so.