Taking small steps to the free-throw line in the second half Wednesday, South Carolina guard Michael Carrera’s would tuck his thumbs into his waistband and hitch up his britches.
Shouting in unison, the LSU student section would rain down the same catcall after the hem came up over Carrera’s knees.
“Short shorts!” the sparse section hollered.
Yet none of the purple-and-gold-clad masses stuck around to watch Carrera calmly flick his wrists on his way to a career-high 23 points and seal an 82-73 victory at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“For me, I like pressure,” Carrera said. “I like pressure a lot. I’ve been dealing with pressure all my life, so I think I did pretty well.”
In the midst of a winless start to Southeastern Conference play, LSU (9-5, 0-3) finds itself with pressure ratcheting up after it rallied three times but was unable to hold on to a four-point lead with less than three minutes to go in regulation.
“Unfortunately for us, they made the tough plays down the stretch,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “You want to strike first. We didn’t.”
The Gamecocks (11-5, 1-2) met little in the way of resistance during overtime, building a 73-69 lead on Carrera’s turnaround jumper at the left elbow with 3:56 left, and limiting LSU to just 2 of 10 shooting.
“We executed more in overtime,” Carrera said. “We just keep getting better and executing the plays.”
Yet LSU faced the ideal template to avoid an extra five minutes tangling with a desperate foe.
With the score knotted at 69, guard Anthony Hickey, who had a team-high 18 points and seven rebounds, poked the ball away from Gamecocks’ guard Brenton Wlliams with 34.1 seconds left in regulation.
Passing on a timeout, Hickey tried to drive into the lane on a ball-screen by forward Johnny O’Bryant, but was cut off at the foul line by forward Lakeem Jackson.
With scant options, Hickey pitched the ball back out to O’Bryant, whose 3-pointer clanked off the back rim with 2.4 seconds left in regulation.
“I knew they were going to double me, so I kicked it back to Johnny,” Hickey said.
However, Jones said another look would have been preferable.
“It just wasn’t a good shot for us,” Jones said. “We just didn’t execute it the way it needed to be done.”
LSU had a prime chance to close over the final two minutes after taking a 69-65 lead on a tip-in by O’Bryant, who only played four minutes in the second half because of foul trouble, with 2:43 left in regulation.
Carrera, though, cut the lead to a lone bucket with a putback at 2:10 left until overtime. Hickey missed a jumper at the other, and guard Charles Carmouche put Brenton Williams on the line for two free throws that tied it 69-69 with 1:16 remaining.
“We got a lead toward the end and it was just a matter of being able to execute and make tough plays at both ends of the floor,” Jones said.
The theme was familiar on a night where South Carolina hit 28 of 37 free throws — season highs in both categories — and attacked the rim against a guard duo of Carmouche and Hickey known for their skills as on-ball defenders.
I thought some of the people getting off the dribble we’re a little surprising,” Jones said. “They were getting the ball to the rim, and we were fouling.”
Granted, Hickey still had a chance to put LSU in front in the final minute.
Alone the left corner, Hickey lofted a 3-pointer on a ball reversal from Carmouche, only to see it rattle out with 51.4 seconds to play in regulation.
“He got a hand on the ball, but I still thought it was good,” Hickey said. “It rimmed in and out, but you can’t do anything about that.”
Simply forcing extra time was a testament to LSU’s fortitude.
In the first half, LSU dug itself a 34-22 hole with 4:46 left until the break after South Carolina went on an 18-5 run over six minutes — a stretch where the Tigers were just 1 of 6 shooting and committed six turnovers.
“They played in the second half with a lot of courage,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “We have been in the same situation. This time we figured out how to stand strong, make some shots and rebound the ball.”
LSU’s final bid in regulation came trailing 60-56 with 8:10 remaining after Carrera’s lay-up on a feed from guard Bruce Ellington when stripped LSU’s Corban Collins of the ball in the backcourt.
A minute later, Stringer hit a jump shot, followed by two Carmouche free throws to pare the deficit to 62-60 with 6:24 left.
It was one of three times they kept the Gamecocks’ lead at two points as Hickey sat on the bench for eight minutes after picking up his fourth foul with 12:03 left in regulation.
“It hurts having Johnny and Hickey on the sideline, but we’ve had that before and been able to pull out wins,” Morgan said. “We’ve just got to keep working through these problems.”
Chief among those now is remaining resolute in the face of a far from ideal SEC start and frittering away a chance at a win on their home floor.
“It’s important we understand that we’re supposed to be taking care of our home floor,” Jones said.
“It’s a tough loss, there’s no way of painting a pretty picture.”
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