On Friday, the LSU men’s basketball team was bracing for a physical matchup against South Carolina with two of the Southeastern Conference’s last three unbeatens squaring off.
A typical Frank Martin-coached team, South Carolina doesn’t mind mixing it up on the backboards, and more important, on the defensive end of the floor, which is how the Gamecocks got off to a 4-0 start in league play.
But it was LSU that flexed its muscles more Saturday night, using its speed as well to thoroughly frustrate South Carolina.
The Tigers crushed the Gamecocks on the glass and got into the paint area just about anytime they wanted, throwing down 10 dunks and getting seven layups in an 89-67 blowout in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU (14-3, 4-0 SEC) led by as many as 33 points early in the second half and coasted to its 17th straight homecourt win after building a 48-28 halftime advantage over South Carolina (9-8, 4-1).
“I told our guys, ‘We have a quickness advantage,’ ” LSU coach Will Wade said. “‘We’re not as big as them … we’re not as bulky as them. We have to use our quickness.’
“If we just tried to go bully-ball for bully-ball, they would roll right over us,” he said. “We had to use out quickness, and I thought we did that.”
It didn’t take very long for South Carolina to lose some of its identity on both ends of the floor, which gave LSU an even easier path to its seventh victory in a row and ninth win in its past 10 outings.
South Carolina forward Chris Silva, a 6-foot-9 preseason first-team All-SEC pick, picked up two fouls in the first 2 minutes and 22 seconds and played only five minutes in the first half.
“Obviously, it hurt them a lot,” Wade said. “When you’re down one of your best players, it’s a totally different game. That was a huge piece to the game. He’s a great player.”
Silva showed his worth on the Gamecocks’ first possession, when he went to the rim and dunked while being fouled by Kavell Bigby-Williams. He hit the free throw for a 3-0 lead just 16 seconds in.
Silva finished the game with just seven points and three rebounds in eight minutes of playing time before fouling out with 4:26 to play in the game.
“They’re a tremendously crazy-big and strong athletic frontcourt,” LSU forward Naz Reid said. “He leads their frontcourt in rebounds and scoring, so being able to get him off the court was a tremendous factor in the game.”
Led by Reid and Emmitt Williams, who dropped in 15 points each, LSU had six players finish in double figures. Bigby-Williams, Tremont Waters and Ja’vonte Smart each had 12 points and Marlon Taylor had 10.
Williams, who tied his career-high in points, had a career-high 13 rebounds, and Bigby-Williams had 11 rebounds as the Tigers out-rebounded the Gamecocks by 49-29. Reid, Smart and Taylor added six each.
“Those are big, strong guys — especially Silva,” Reid said. “Going into the game, coach (Tony) Benford wanted Kavell, Darius (Days) and I to impose our will and get rebounds and help out our guards by outrebounding them.”
The 49 rebounds were a season high for LSU, which came in ranked 10th in the SEC with 36.8 rebounds per game.
“We’ve been practicing very hard at it,” Williams said after notching his third career double-double. “Our guards, our leaders, have been telling us we need to go hard to the glass and keep getting better and better each and every day.”
LSU scored 20 points off 16 South Carolina turnovers and had 20 second-chance points off 15 offensive rebounds.
“Coach Wade has been emphasizing that we have to cut down our turnovers,” Waters said. “We understand that it’s a game of runs and if we turn them over a lot and convert, we don’t have to play against a set defense.
“That’s something we’ve been drilling into our team.”
South Carolina had just two players in double digits; A.J. Lawson had 18 points and Keyshawn Bryant finished with 10.
The 4-0 start in conference play left LSU as one of only two teams without a loss. Tennessee moved to 5-0 earlier Saturday by defeating Alabama 71-68.
It’s only the ninth time in program history that LSU has opened its league schedule with four consecutive wins. The last time was in 2006 when the Tigers started 7-0 en route to an SEC title and Final Four berth.
“We got totally outplayed … we lost in every statistical category,” Martin said. “I’ve never coached a game like this today where we got destroyed like that on the glass. They are too good.”