Gamecocks defense stumbles in setback

South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington glides in for a layup Saturday during the second half of the Gamecocks’ 68-58 loss to LSU on at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina basketball coach Darrin Horn talked on Friday about how pleased he was with his team's defensive effort in Wednesday's win over Georgia. The Gamecocks shot just 38.8 percent, but held Georgia to 35.1 percent. It was USC's third-best field goal percentage defense performance of the season, and its best in Southeastern Conference games.

Horn knows a team as offensively challenged as these Gamecocks absolutely must play attentive and aggressive defense to have a chance.

Rarely this year, has that been more evident than it was Saturday, when LSU beat USC 68-58 by shooting 49 percent, including 57.7 in the second half, when the Tigers outscored the Gamecocks 43-36.

LSU entered the game ninth in the SEC in field goal percentage in league games. The 49-percent showing tied its best in conference play. USC has struggled with its new 2-3 matchup zone defense this season and was last in the league in field goal percentage defense entering Saturday.

With their winning streak over, at one game, the Gamecocks (10-16, 2-10) have four regular season games remaining, and must win half of them if they want to avoid their worst ever SEC record -- 3-13.

"We can practice 10 hours a day and watch as much film as we want and motivate and encourage," Horn said. "But guys have got to show up and do what they're capable of doing."

Said forward Malik Cooke, USC's only senior: "We've got to stop making excuses for ourselves and take some accountability and pride in what we're doing."

They were both frustrated by USC being outrebounded 36-23. LSU had 12 offensive rebounds, compared to 18 defensive boards for USC. Probably most annoying for Horn, USC rebounded just five of its 27 missed shots, while LSU had 24 defensive rebounds.

But USC's forwards no-showed on the boards Saturday. Point guard Bruce Ellington led USC with seven rebounds. Nobody else had more than four.

"There were some opportunities we could have took to crash the boards more," said USC power forward Anthony Gill.

LSU's starting big men dominated USC. Justin Hamilton (7-0, 260 pounds) shot 5 of 8 and scored 18 points. Storm Warren (6-7, 230) shot 6 of 10 and scored 12 points.

With three minutes left, USC trailed just 56-52 and needed a stop. But Hamilton gathered a shot blocked by USC's Damontre Harris and put it back. USC never got any closer after that.

"Those are things you can't allow to happen," Horn said of Hamilton's second-chance shot. "You've got to get those stops. I think it was really pretty simple."