COLUMBIA, S.C. — The last time Johnny O’Bryant III played at South Carolina, he finished with 30 points, a career-high.
This season’s visit wasn’t as pleasant, as O’Bryant was contained to just two points in the first half. Despite his relatively lackluster performance, LSU was able to top the Gamecocks 71-68 with poise from other players.
“We know we need to make the open shots if Johnny is having a hard time,” sophomore Malik Morgan said. “We going to keep riding that horse until it dies out. That’s basically what we’re going to do.”
First team all-SEC last season, O’Bryant is used to being the focus of opponents. But when he stalled in the first half, LSU coach Johnny Jones sat O’Bryant down, something less familiar to him.
Thanks to freshman Jarell Martin’s 11 first half points, five rebounds from senior Shavon Coleman and an 8-1 offensive rebounding edge, LSU took a two-point lead at the half despite O’Bryant’s struggles and a 33.3 field-goal shooting percentage.
“I was really satisfied with the play of the guys around Johnny when he had to sit,” Jones said. “It’s always frustrating when you have the offensive power that Johnny has. … We were hoping that he possibly could have scored more when he had some better one-on-one opportunities inside and didn’t finish those. Unfortunately, then he didn’t knock all of his free throws down.”
O’Bryant was part of the Tigers’ crucial 22-8 run in the second half, and he finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. When LSU ran the offense through him during that stretch and he was able to score inside, Jones said he was pleased that O’Bryant didn’t make any poor decisions.
“Johnny is a tough basketball player and we depend on him,” Jones said. “He’s delievered for us quite often.”
After back-to-back losses at home to Rhode Island and Tennessee, respectively, Jones made some changes to his lineup. In place of Martin and senior guard Andre Stringer, senior Shavon Coleman and Morgan got the starting nods.
“I thought both of those guys helped jump start us and were really good defensively,” Jones said. “We held USC scoreless without a basket for the first three or four minutes of the game. We got deflections. In an environment and situation like this, it’s important to set the tone, and I thought they did set the tone.”
Both players said they sought to bring energy to the team as starters, but Morgan specifically focused on his defensive effort. In addition to Morgan’s eight points, he had two steals and two blocks.
Morgan and Coleman combined for LSU’s first nine points. Coleman finished with five points and six rebounds.
“I just wanted to bring the same thing I always bring to every game — energy and excitement to the team,” Coleman said.
Going 3-for-8 from 3-point range might have pushed the Tigers over the Gamecocks in the second half, but LSU wouldn’t have even been in position if not for its offensive rebounding. The Tigers had an 8-1 offensive rebounding advantage in the first half, and a 16-7 one for the game.
The rebounding success gave LSU a 7-2 edge in second-chance points in the first half. Going 10-of-30 from the field in the first half, the Tigers went into halftime with a 32-30 lead in part because they had more opportunities to score.
LSU improved its shooting in the second half, going 12-of-26 from the field.