Struggling for the third game in a row, LSU point guard Josh Gray couldn’t buy a basket in the first 37 minutes of his team’s Southeastern Conference matchup Wednesday night against South Carolina.
Gray misfired on his first four shots from the field, but made two key baskets down the stretch — including a huge 3-pointer — to spark a closing 12-2 run that gave LSU a 64-58 win over South Carolina at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
After Gray cut into a 56-52 deficit with a 3-point field goal with 2:44 to play, he penetrated the lane for a two-pointer that gave the Tigers a 57-56 lead with two minutes remaining in the closely played contest.
Gray’s timely field goals seemed to lift his teammates and 9,518 boisterous fans in the PMAC.
Coming up with big play after big play in the final 90 seconds, LSU (16-4, 5-2 SEC) capped the comeback with a 7-0 run after South Carolina (10-9, 1-6) regained the lead temporarily with 1:40 to play on a Tyrone Johnson basket.
Gray, who scored a total of five points in LSU’s past two games and was shut out in an overtime victory on Saturday night at Vanderbilt, had just one point when he struck for back-to-back baskets after the Tigers came up empty on their previous two possessions while trailing by four.
“I felt like I had to bring something to the table,” Gray said of his late heroics. “I had only one point and I just felt like we needed that big (3-point) shot. I had the confidence and I took it.”
While the first one helped bring his team within one point, his second gave the Tigers a one-point lead before Johnson scored on a layup to put the Gamecocks back in front.
That’s when Gray’s teammates helped finish the game on a high note.
Jarell Martin had a dunk on a feed from Tim Quarterman to put LSU in front for good at 59-58 before Jordan Mickey and Keith Hornsby had back-to-back blocks with 32 seconds and 22 seconds, respectively, to preserve the lead.
Then, Mickey added two free throws for a four-point lead and then swatted away two more shots in the closing seconds to put an exclamation point on the victory — LSU’s fifth in its past six SEC outings.
Mickey had six blocks in the game with the final two moving him into second on the school’s all-time list with 177 ahead of Chris Johnson’s 176. Shaquille O’Neal is the record-holder with 412.
“That’s probably one of the bigger exclamation points I put on a game,” a smiling Mickey said of his two-block sequence that sent the crowd into a frenzy. “I just didn’t want to let anything get to the rim. … I was determined to not let that happen.
“We had to come back home and get a win back after that one we lost against Texas A&M.”
It wouldn’t have been possible had Gray not hit at just the right time.
South Carolina kept taking the fight to LSU, which was playing with a short bench because guard Jalyn Patterson was unable to go after being nicked in Saturday night’s game.
“We had to get some momentum and it kind of picked up for us,” Gray said of his two big shots. “We got right back in the game. Coach (Johnny Jones) was telling me come off the ball screen because their big man wasn’t really hedging. Coach said, ‘Just look for your shot.’ ”
He certainly did.
“I think that’s the caliber of player that Josh is,” Jones said. “He played with a big heart tonight. The play or two before that (3-point) shot, he didn’t strike the iron. Then, he came back and hit the huge 3 for us.”
After struggling for most of the night, Quarterman said Gray made a difference.
“Josh’s 3-point shot was definitely a big momentum play,” Quarterman said. “He couldn’t find a shot all night, but big-time players make big-time plays in a game. He made a big play and that got us going at the end of the game.”
Quarterman, who had a team-high 16 points, also had three assists — one of them a feed to Martin for two of his 10 points. Hornsby had 15 points and Mickey had 14 points. Martin had 11 rebounds and matched Mickey’s six blocks.
“It was just a big team effort out there at the end,” Quarterman said. “We were able to swing the ball from side to side and got good looks at the basket and Jarell got the big dunk.
“That was a momentum play, too, and then we go back down and got a couple of blocks from Jordan and Keith. Everybody was playing good defense and it was just a big team effort at the end. That’s why came out with the victory.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.