South Carolina now finds itself in a tie for first place atop the SEC standings after a win Wednesday night over the LSU Tigers, 94-83. It marked the Gamecocks' 21st win of the season and their eighth in conference play. They haven't hit those marks, in those categories since the 2008-09 season.
LSU held an advantage all-time in games played in Columbia but entering this week's tilt, the series between the two teams was knotted at 15-15. As South Carolina took the all-time advantage, the Gamecocks picked up their first win in the series since 2013. LSU had won the three previous meetings and four of the last five.
Wednesday's game marked the start of a South Carolina homestand that includes four of the next five games in Colonial Life Arena for the Gamecocks.
USC took a blow early on as senior leader Michael Carrera picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of the game. LSU took a quick 5-4 lead but Duane Notice came up with a steal and ended USC's possession with a three-pointer on the other end of the floor. The crucial turnover sparked a 10-2 South Carolina run that included Notice's three and a trey from Mindaugas Kacinas, who hit two in USC's win over No. 8 Texas A&M last weekend.
A cold spurt hurt the Gamecocks as four consecutive missed field goals correlated with an LSU run and allowed the Tigers to tie the game just five minutes after USC made their push. In the opening 13 minutes of game action, LSU hit 9-of-15 from the field and five of their eight three-point attempts.
Both offenses came to a screeching halt over the final six minutes of the first half. LSU shot 2-of-12 from the field during that period while South Carolina shot 2-of-6.
The Gamecocks held a two-possession lead at the half but LSU's star freshman opened the floodgates after the break. Ben Simmons tore off seven straight points after halftime, having been largely held in check for most of the first half.
South Carolina responded though, not with its own individual effort, but with team play. Fresh off the bench after picking up his two early fouls, Carrera knocked down a three-pointer. Notice followed with a pair of treys that directly responded to LSU field goals. It was a back-and-forth affair that left the game tied at 58 with 11 minutes to play.
28 first half fouls put many Gamecocks in foul trouble as the game came to a close. Kacinas, Chris Silva and Laimonas Chatkevicius all sat with four fouls while Carrera and freshman P.J. Dozier each had recently picked up their third. Freshman Jamall Gregory, Raymond Doby and Eric Cobb were forced into duty in a pivotal game.
Doby made the biggest impact, stealing a pass and launching it to Dozier for a lay-up. He followed that play with a pair of free throws and a three-point play. South Carolina executed three old-fashioned three-point plays in the game's final minutes. Dozier hit a magnificent leg-kicking jumper that got him fouled and caused the arena to erupt.
The Gamecocks held a four-point lead with a minute left in regulation. Breaking LSU's press converted into trips to the free throw line and USC made them count, hitting 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
Thornwell carried South Carolina with a brilliant 24-point performance to follow his 25 points against Texas A&M. Carrera tallied 14 second-half points to help the Gamecocks. Dozier had perhaps his best game thus far, contributing 12 points, three assists and zero turnovers; 10 of his points came in the second half.
The next act of the homestand has USC hosting No. 22 Kentucky on Saturday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena. This game is beyond huge as it will put USC alone atop the SEC standings and it would give the Gamecocks tiebreakers over Texas A&M, LSU and Kentucky.