COLUMBIA, S.C. — Going into Wednesday night’s game with South Carolina, LSU was one of only two Southeastern Conference teams that had a winning record on the road in league play.
But despite having some success in going 3-2 away from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in the first half of the league, LSU was reminded just how difficult it can be to win on the road against a quality team.
LSU went into the contest with a slim one-game lead in the conference, but came out of it in a three-way logjam with South Carolina and Kentucky after Carolina claimed a 94-83 win in Colonial Life Arena.
Texas A&M had an opportunity to make it a four-way tie at the top, but the Aggies, who were the only team besides LSU to have a winning mark on the road, fell at Alabama 63-62 Wednesday night.
LSU (15-9, 8-3 SEC) had its four-game winning streak in conference play snapped when South Carolina (21-3, 8-3) went on a decisive 10-3 run in the final 1 minute, 12 seconds to secure the victory.
“We put ourselves in position to win late in the basketball game, but we didn’t make the plays we needed,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “In the second half, it was a great battle. But they did a good job of making plays.”
South Carolina won for the 13th consecutive time at home this year, improving to 5-0 in the league in a physical contest that saw the teams combine for 56 personal fouls with four disqualifications — two on each side.
Four other players finished the game with four fouls each as LSU committed 30 fouls — one off its season high — and South Carolina had 26.
Antonio Blakeney led LSU in a losing effort with 22 points, while Ben Simmons had 20 and Keith Hornsby 14.
Simmons also had six rebounds and six assists despite missing the final 8:19 of the first half when he picked up his second foul just 81 seconds after Craig Victor went to the bench with his second.
But even with its two frontcourt stars watching from the sideline for a good portion of the first half, LSU was able to hang in and trailed just 39-35 at halftime — giving Jones’ team some hope.
LSU quickly fell behind by nine points early in the second half, but managed to stay in contact with South Carolina and even tied the score twice — the last time at 60-60 with 9:10 to play on a pair of free throws by Victor.
LSU, which never led in the final 30-plus minutes of the game, again trailed by nine (77-68) at the 5:30 mark before coming back to trim the deficit to just four points on four occasions in the final 4½ minutes — the last with 57.5 seconds remaining on a free throw by Simmons.
But South Carolina, backed by a boisterous crowd, wouldn’t give in and converted 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute when LSU had to foul.
The Gamecocks capped the victory with a thunderous slam dunk with 5.4 seconds left by guard Sindarius Thornwell, who led the Gamecocks with 24 points, to delight a crowd of 16,009.
Forward Michael Carrera had 15 points, while guards Duane Notice and PJ Dozier had 14 and 12, respectively.
Both teams shot the ball well with South Carolina hitting 48.4 percent (30-of-62) to LSU’s 47.5 percent (29-of-61).
The difference came at the free-throw line.
While South Carolina was going 27-of-36 at the line (75.0 percent), LSU didn’t help itself in sinking just 16-of-28 (57.1 percent) — going 5-of-14 in the first 20 minutes.
Despite the 11-point disparity at the charity stripe, the Tigers had their chances down the stretch.
They were down four points and had possession with 1:53 left after Carrera missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Jones’ team couldn’t capitalize.
Tim Quarterman couldn’t connect on a 3-point field-goal attempt, Simmons missed a free throw and Quarterman and Josh Gray each committed a turnover in the final 35 seconds.
“You’ve got to execute those plays when you put yourself in that position,” Jones said. “You want to grind it, grind it, grind it to make sure you get the game home. We weren’t able to do that.
“We had some bad turnovers there late. … We’ve got to be able to make the right plays. South Carolina’s seniors played well and made plays when it came grind time. They made those, and unfortunately, we didn’t get it done.”