It was difficult to pinpoint one thing that cost the LSU a chance to pull out a victory in a road game against a 20-win South Carolina team on Wednesday night.
In fact, it was a combination of things that conspired to go wrong at the worst possible time for LSU — in the final two minutes — and contributed to a 94-83 setback against South Carolina.
Poor defense? Spotty offensive execution? Turnovers? Missed free throws?
With the exception of free throws, which were mostly a first-half thing for the Tigers, all played a part in snapping their four-game Southeastern Conference winning streak which dropped them out of sole possession of first place in the league.
About the only good news to come out of a game that could have been had but got away late was LSU still has a piece of the SEC lead — along with Kentucky and South Carolina — heading into Saturday’s important matchup with Texas A&M in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
By then, coach Johnny Jones and his Tigers hope to have their problems from Wednesday night’s game ironed out, especially those things that cropped up after they trailed by just four points and had the ball with 1:53 to play.
From that point on, LSU missed two field-goal attempts — a 3-pointer by Tim Quarterman and a layup by Ben Simmons — as well as a free throw and committed two turnovers.
On the other hand, South Carolina finished strong.
The Gamecocks connected on 10 free throws and had a game-capping dunk just seconds before the final buzzer and had two steals on defense in a 12-5 run that put the Tigers away.
The thing that stood out to Jones, however, was his team’s defense.
After LSU’s Craig Victor tied the game at 60, which brought the Tigers all the way back from a nine-point deficit, South Carolina scored on 16 of its final 19 possessions to rack up 34 points in the final 8:48.
During that span, South Carolina had four old-fashioned three-point plays, which Jones said are as devastating as having four 3-point shots hit the mark.
“We scored 83 points … that’s a lot of points,” he said after the game. “But you can’t give up 94 and expect to win.”
Looking at it another way, LSU scored more than its SEC-leading average of 81.3 points per game and still lost by 11.
“We didn’t do a great job (defensively),” Jones said. “We have to do a better job of moving the feet, putting ourselves in great position and limiting guys to one shot. A few times last night, we gave up some driving angles to guys and then tried to contest shots late.
“Therefore, we did not do a good enough job on the front end of defending it. We’ve shown we are very capable. We just have to be willing to do it and gut it out throughout the process. We are a better defensive team than we showed last night.”
That was just part of it.
When the Tigers’ guards couldn’t get the ball enough in the final minutes to Simmons, Antonio Blakeney and Keith Hornsby — who combined to knock down 21-of-37 field-goal attempts — it didn’t help.
“When you put all of those things together, we came up short,” Jones said Thursday. “You can’t do that against good teams anywhere, and especially a really good team that’s playing as well as South Carolina right now — a team that should be a top-20, top-25 team.”
Victor pointed to at least four of the things that went wrong, like hitting just 5-of-14 free throws in the first half even though they were considerably better in going 11-of-14 in the second half and committing too many fouls on defense, but took a long look at their lack of execution on offense.
“We just have to do a better time in crunch time and take care of the ball,” he said. “We had the ball down four (points), so anything is possible. We just have to value the basketball. If we turn the ball over, there’s no way we can score.
“We have to give ourselves that opportunity. It’s opportunities we took away from ourselves. ... It was nothing they did, we just turned it over.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.