COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina coach Frank Martin looked around at his exhilarated players after the Gamecocks beat LSU to gain a share of first in the Southeastern Conference.
"Enjoy being tied for first place. You've earned it," he told them. "But it's not time to celebrate."
Not with No. 22 Kentucky ahead Saturday in another top-of-the league showdown.
South Carolina (21-3, 8-3) got to the top with a 94-83 win over LSU on Wednesday night, breaking away from a tie game with a 17-8 spurt midway through the second half. Sindarius Thornwell scored 24 points — his second straight contest with more than 20 points —and Michael Carrera had 14 of his 16 points after halftime to lead the surprising Gamecocks, who have won their most games since going 21-10 in 2008-09.
And they did it by pulling away late from Ben Simmons and the Tigers (15-9, 8-3), who themselves caught fire once SEC play began after a sluggish preseason.
Some thought the Gamecocks' successful run (they opened 15-0) had ended when they went 4-3, including a disappointing 13-point loss at Georgia earlier this month. But South Carolina rebounded with an 81-78 victory at then-No. 8 Texas A&M (Thornwell led the way with 25 points in that one) to set up a showdown with LSU.
Dozier's three-point play with 8:55 left — he was fouled by Simmons — put South Carolina up for good 63-60. Dozier followed with a jumper and when he finished off another three-point play three minutes later, the Gamecocks were up 77-68.
LSU closed to 85-81 in the final minute on Simmons' foul shot before South Carolina hit 7-of-8 foul shots down the stretch to move into a tie at the top with the Tigers and Kentucky.
"We're not going to let the moment get to us," Thornwell said. "We're not going to let it get to our heads or overlook anybody. We're going to stay the course."
Simmons put on another dazzling display with 20 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Antonio Blakeney had 22 points to lead the Tigers.
Duane Notice had 15 points and Dozier 12 for the Gamecocks.
LSU coach Johnny Jones said his players gave up too many big shots to the Gamecocks and the Tiger guards did not do a good enough job getting the ball to their outside shooters such as Blakeney and Keith Hornsby. "Late in the game, tie score there late, we did not do the things that were necessary to put ourselves in position to win the basketball game," he said.
South Carolina used several of its big bodies to force Simmons away from the basket on one end, even forcing him into a missed chippy from close in the opening half. They also took it right at LSU's versatile big man on defense and Simmons sat for the final eight minutes of the opening half with two fouls.
Simmons heated up in the second half with several inside buckets, including a two-handed jam that drew oohs from the crowd.
LSU: The Tigers have had only four freshmen score 30 points or more in a game between 1972-2015 since the youngest players became eligible 44 years ago. Both Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney have accomplished that this season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks had their best shooting performance of the season last time out, going 30-of-57 (52.6 percent) to upend then-No. 8 Texas A&M this past Saturday.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said he was frustrated that, in a contest between the first- and second-place teams in a Power Five conference, neither club was ranked in the Top 25. "That's the frustrating part, how either one of these two teams is ranked nationally. It makes no sense," Martin said.
HEARING IT FROM THE CROWD
Visiting crowds heckle Ben Simmons wherever he plays and South Carolina was no different, telling the LSU freshman and expected high pick in the next NBA draft that he was "overrated" among other shouts and catcalls. Simmons said it did not affect him. Simmons stared down the student section after one second-half bucket. "I'm used to hearing my name or them saying overrated, or whatever it is," Simmons said. "I just play hard and try not to pay too much attention to it."
LSU plays No. 15 Texas A&M at home Saturday.
South Carolina takes on No. 22 Kentucky at home Saturday.