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GAMETHREAD: LSU vs South Carolina, 5pm, SEC Network

LSU plays for an early chance at second in the conference tonight against the Gamecocks

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

A sneaky pivotal game for LSU will be played tonight in the PMAC as the Tigers take on the Gamecocks of South Carolina.

South Carolina (9-7, 4-0 SEC) don’t own the most sparkling record, but having won five in a row, including an overtime upset at home against Mississippi State, the Gamecocks are now one of the hottest teams in the conference.

Carolina and LSU are each unbeaten in conference play, and a victory in the Deaf Dome will secure sole possession of second place in the conference, behind the No. 3 ranked Vols of Tennessee.

Frank Martin’s Gamecocks may not be as talented as his Final Four squad from two seasons back, but he has a scrappy bunch. Of Carolina’s four conference wins, only one has come by 10 points. The other three were a two point win at Florida, a five point win in Starkville, and a three point win against Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks may not blow away opponents, but lately they’ve been able to summon the appropriate amount of grit to grind out quality wins.

For Carolina, everything starts with freshman guard AJ Lawson. The Toronto-native has started all 16 games for South Carolina and leads the Gamecocks in minutes logged, points, assists and steals.

If Lawson is South Carolina’s future, then Chris Silva is the teams steadying elder statesmen. A holdover from the Final Four group, Silva was an All-SEC first team pick last year, a member of the conference’s All-Defensive team, and the SEC’s co-defensive player of the year. Silva is the meat of South Carolina’s program, leading the team in rebounding and blocked shots.

Carolina is allowing 74 points a game in conference play, and through four games opponents are shooting 37 percent from three. For the year Carolina has a negative point differential in the second half, but they’re +19 in conference games. The trade off, however, is Carolina is now getting outscored in the first half of SEC games, after owning a +62 point differential prior to conference play. A key for LSU this evening is, if they get up early on South Carolina, they keep them at arms length because the Gamecocks have shown they’re not an easy out, especially since SEC play has started.

But Carolina is a mediocre at best road team, splitting their eight road games at 4-4. LSU’s unbeaten at home and hopefully both trends continue today. The Gamecocks may not necessarily be a good team but they’re playing good ball as of late. Carolina’s sporting a less than glamorous record but they’vre winners of five in a row and they knocked off a ranked Mississippi State team just two weeks ago. LSU’s got a bunch of winnable games coming up, it’s time to put some distance between them and the rest of the conference.

Today’s game is at 5pm and will be televised on the SEC Network. You can also listen in on 98.1FM or join the discussion in the comments below.