Boston, No. 1 Gamecocks win 20th straight 63-48 over LSU

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              South Carolina's Zia Cooke (1) shoots while defended by LSU's Faustine Aifuwa during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley didn’t enjoy her usually dominant team struggling early against LSU. She was grateful, though, the top-ranked Gamecocks got past their problems for their 20th straight victory.

Freshman Aliyah Boston had 13 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in a 63-48 victory on Thursday night.

There was plenty for Staley to grouse about — 13 first-half turnovers, a nine-point second quarter and LSU getting too many easy looks to keep things tight through halftime.

“I knew we weren’t going to be able to keep up that pace, that somebody would challenge us in some type of way,” she said.

“But it was good to go through it,” Staley continued. “Hopefully, we got the kinks out.”

Things started as they typically do for South Carolina (26-1, 13-0 Southeastern Conference), with a big first-quarter run that sets up their relentless defensive style that has worn down most opponents.

This time, though, LSU came right back at the Gamecocks with pressure of its own to keep things tight the first two quarters.

But the 6-foot-2 Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and 6-5 Boston got going inside in the third quarter as the Gamecocks finally put the Tigers (18-7, 8-5) away.

Staley said the focus on halftime was getting the ball to Herbert Harrigan and Boston as often as possible.

“We just began to move the ball and take care of the ball like we’ve done,” said Herbert Harrigan, a senior and one of two remaining players from South Carolina’s 2017 national champions.

Herbert Harrigan had 12 points and Zia Cooke 11 for South Carolina.

Boston had five points as South Carolina went on a 12-1 run in the third period to open up a 46-31 lead. The Tigers could not answer back and lost its 10th straight to South Carolina.

LSU made things sticky at first. The Tigers forced 13 turnovers in the first two quarters. South Carolina had come in averaging that many miscues a game this season.

The Gamecocks missed seven of their final eight shots before halftime and finished the second quarter with just nine points — their first single-digit period since scoring nine points in their only loss to Indiana back in November.

South Carolina tightened things up after halftime with just three more turnovers the final two quarters to continue its winning run.

Jailin Cherry led LSU with 13 points.

LSU coach Nikki Fargas said if she knew her team would hold South Carolina to 63 points — its fewest points in a win this season since beating Maryland 63-54 back in college basketball’s opening weekend — the Tigers might have a chance to steal one from the nation’s top team.

Instead, Boston and Herbert Harrigan controlled things down the stretch. “Their interior defense is one of the best that we’ve played,” she said.

THE BIG PICTURE

LSU: The Tigers showed plenty of grit in hanging with South Carolina as long as they did. But once the Gamecocks tightened things up after halftime, LSU struggled to maintain that edge. The Tigers struggled inside and had 11 shots blocked.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks moved a step closer to regaining their SEC regular-season crown they haven’t won since 2017 — their NCAA Tournament winning season. South Carolina’s next victory with three games remaining clinches at least a share of the SEC title. Second-place Mississippi State has two losses, including one to the Gamecocks.

BOSTON’S BLOCKS

Aliyah Boston’s five blocks gave her 75 this season, surpassing Alaina Coates’ freshman record of 73 set in 2013-14. “Honestly, we didn’t think that would ever get done,” Staley said. “To have a freshman that imposing, doesn’t come along every day.”

CHILLY DISCUSSION

LSU’s Nikki Fargas told Staley she was cold inside Colonial Life Arena. Staley didn’t let that slide without a sharp comeback, “When one of these officials makes a bad call, you’ll warm up real quick,” South Carolina’s coach joked.

UP NEXT

LSU returns home to play Georgia on Sunday.

South Carolina visits No. 14 Kentucky on Sunday.