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LSU Falls In SEC Championship vs. No. 1 South Carolina, 79-72

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LSU Falls In SEC Championship vs. No. 1 South Carolina, 79-72

GREENVILLE, S.C.  — No. 8 LSU was unable to mount a comeback over No. 1 South Carolina in the SEC Tournament Championship on Sunday afternoon in Bon Secours Wellness Arena, 79-72. 

“We battled with five, maybe six (totally) healthy players,” Angel Reese said. “We’re not scared. We’re in a place right now that I’m proud of and I’m happy where we are right now.”

“We’re playing some good basketball right now,” Coach Kim Mulkey echoed. “That’s just the God’s truth. They (South Carolina) have a lot of depth. One kid, basically, hurt us today and that was (MiLaysia) Fulwiley. You look at the stats, how can you not leave here and go, god I wish the playoffs started next week?”

LSU made it the furthest in the SEC Tournament it has under Coach Kim Mulkey. After winning zero games her first season in the conference tournament, the Tigers won one last year and this year won two to reach the championship. Selection Sunday is one week away and the Tigers expected to hear themselves called as one of the top-16 seeds to host NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games in the PMAC.

Through the tournament, LSU suffered some physical blows that left LSU shorthanded and not at full strength. Reese spun her right ankle on Friday and Aneesah Morrow suffered a black eye in the same game. Flau’Jae Johnson battled some cramps throughout the tournament and Hailey Van Lith Lith took her fair share of licks in three games in three days. Mikaylah Williams did not play Friday or Saturday and was only able to play limited minutes on Sunday. On Saturday, Last-Tear Poa suffered a concussion and was taken off on a stretcher – she watched Sunday’s game from the team hotel after undergoing tests and getting released from the hospital last night. The Tigers battled a lot of adversity throughout the weekend, but showed their toughness over and over.

“We’re pretty darn tough,” Mulkey said she learned from her team this weekend. “Resilient. They have each other’s back. Didn’t get rattled. Fought through some adversity with Poa’s injury last night to get to this point.”

Morrow led the Tigers with 19 points and 10 rebounds for her 19th double-double of the season. Angel Reese earned her 12th straight double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Her performance on Sunday marks her 23rd double-double of the season. 

Van Lith followed with 14 points on 5-11 from the field and 2 triples. Johnson finished with 13 points 4-10 from the field with 2 three-pointers. No other Tiger reached double figures. 

The Tigers introduced a new starting line-up that included freshman, Jane Kent, and the regular starters of Reese, Johnson, Van Lith, and Morrow. The Oak Forest, Illinois native took the place of Poa, it was Kent’s first career start. 

Fulwiley led the Gamecocks with 24 points on 8-12 from the field and 4 three-pointers. Te-Hina Paopao followed with 12 points and added 5 assists. Bree Hall and Raven Johnson finished with 9 points each. 

The Tigers got off to a quick start as Morrow scored six quick points to give LSU a 13-7 edge at the first media timeout. LSU was scoreless after the run for over 3 minutes while the Gamecocks moved the margin to just one. Paopao gave South Carolina its first lead of the game, with a fast-break turnover with 30 seconds to play in the quarter. The Gamecocks made two free throws to finish the first with a 18-15 lead. 

Morrow and Kent both connected on early three-pointers to start the second as LSU looked to chip away at South Carolina’s lead. After Raven Johnson made a three for the Gamecocks, LSU’s Johnson hit a triple of her own for her first points of the afternoon. LSU held South Carolina scoreless for over four minutes through the middle portion of the second quarter, getting the score within three before a Watkins layup ended the Gamecock drought. Van Lith knocked down a three in the waning seconds of the half to bring the Tigers within four, 32-36, going into the break.

South Carolina came out of halftime with a 10-1 run to give the Gamecocks their first double figure lead of the day. The Tigers adjusted by going to their big lineup. Reese snapped the run with a second-chance layup that was followed by a three-point play from Del Rosario. At the media timeout LSU trailed by eight. South Carolina extended its lead back to double figures after LSU traded some twos for a couple threes. The Gamecocks got it to a 13-point lead, but by the end of the quarter LSU got the game within six.

South Carolina moved back into a double figure lead three minutes into the final quarter. Van Lith sparked a 9-0 LSU run as she scored five straight and LSU moved within one after Johnson went 2-2 from the foul line.  South Carolina scored six unanswered before a scuffle broke out after a foul was called on Johnson. Tempers flared between the two teams with just about two minutes left in the game. Ultimately both benches cleared and once the officials sorted everything out, both teams finished the game with just five available players. After the 20-minute delay, LSU scored three to get within five but South Carolina went 4-4 from the free throw line to close things out.