COLUMBIA, S.C. — The LSU men struggled in the first half but coasted in the second of Thursday’s game at South Carolina. The only constant in both periods was the stellar play of forward Johnny O’Bryant.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore set a career high in scoring (30 points) for the second straight game as the Tigers cruised to their fourth straight Southeastern Conference victory, a 64-46 win at Colonial Life Arena.
O’Bryant made all seven second-half shots and finished 13-for-19 against an overmatched Gamecocks front line.
“Coach (Johnny Jones) has talked to me all year about being patient, making the right move and going to toward the rim strong,” O’Bryant said. “That’s what I tried to do tonight. I’ve done a better job of practicing harder. You practice like you play. I had to battle early in the season with injuries, and I was back and forth getting in and out of shape. I think I’ve done a great job of just playing hard.”
“Johnny did an excellent job,” Jones said. “What he has done for us the last few weeks and few games has allowed us to be patient and look for him inside.”
LSU (14-8, 5-6 SEC) continued its recovery from an 0-4 start in conference play and moved into a three-way tie for eighth place. The blowout was a welcome respite from what LSU had been experiencing. Seven of the Tigers’ first 10 SEC games were decided by five points or fewer.
O’Bryant, who set his previous career high with 22 points in Saturday’s loss at Alabama, reached double figures in scoring and rebounding (10) for the 10th time this season and the seventh time in the past eight games. He had nine points and six rebounds when the Tigers lost to South Carolina 82-73 in overtime Jan. 16 in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers turned the ball over on their first three possessions Thursday, missed their first three shots and got little offensive production from anyone other than O’Bryant for much of the first half. He scored 10 of the Tigers’ first 14 points.
Fortunately for the Tigers, South Carolina (12-12, 2-9) was abysmal offensively in both halves — posting identical 9-for-32 shooting numbers.
The Gamecocks missed their first seven shots before Damien Leonard broke a scoreless tie on a 3-pointer with 16:10 remaining.
LSU took the lead to stay at 19-18 on a 3-pointer by Charles Carmouche with 6:20 left as part of a 7-0 run.
The Tigers had a 26-24 halftime lead despite shooting just 35.5 percent and committing 10 turnovers.
The second half was a different story — for the Tigers, at least.
“I thought we came out really focused and really determined in the second half,” Jones said. “We made some offensive plays. I thought it was one of our best defensive efforts we’ve played all year long.”
LSU hit 53.6 percent of its shots in the second half. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Andre Stringer pushed the lead to 52-35 with 8:20 remaining; he finished with 12 points. The Tigers outrebounded South Carolina 49-34.
“I’ve never been more embarrassed than am I to call myself a basketball coach today,” said Gamecocks coach Frank Martin, whose team has lost five straight.
“And I coached junior high, meaning I dealt with 14-year-olds. With the exception of Bruce Ellington, we’ve got 12 candidates for one of those zombie movies.
“The desire to play is not there. I’ve always taken pride to get guys to do what I ask me to do. That’s not happening right now. I shouldn’t coach basketball again if this is how my team is going to look.”
Lakeem Jackson scored 10 points to lead South Carolina.
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