ATLANTA, GA — Dave Odom will coach one more day. He’s set to retire as soon as this season ends and that figures to be Friday afternoon when the Gamecocks face off with fourth-ranked Tennessee in the quarter-finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament but until the horn sounds to end that game, he will milk every ounce of joy he can out of what’s left of a solid coaching career.
“I’ve been blessed,” said Odom after South Carolina edged LSU, 77-73, in the first round of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome Thursday. “The Lord gave me one more day and I’m going to enjoy it. I go into tomorrow with no fear, no trepidation, nothing. I’m not anxious about it at all. I don’t wish it were an hour from now. I’m going to enjoy the next, whatever it is, 20 hours between now and then. I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it. Hope I don’t sleep tonight so I can stay awake and think about it, go back in there and wake my wife up and say, ‘hey, let me tell you something.’ I want 20 hours of no sleep. I’ll probably get it!”
South Carolina made it interesting down the stretch, blowing much of a 12-point lead in the final minute and a half of the game, but the Gamecocks managed to hit just enough free throws to hold on and extend Odom’s coaching career by at least one more day. The Gamecocks (14-17) will face Tennessee (28-3), the regular season SEC champ, at 1 p.m. Friday.
South Carolina looked to have the game wrapped up when Zam Fredrick dunked in transition to give the Gamecocks a 73-61 lead with 1:24 remaining, but that’s where things got interesting. LSU started hitting shots and South Carolina found it difficult to convert at the foul line. South Carolina hit only three of eight free throws in the final 1:24 and that allowed LSU to creep back into it.
“In typical fashion we made it interesting at the end,” said Odom. “We rarely ever win with ease going away looking over our shoulder into the sunset. That rarely happens.”
LSU scored seven straight points to close to five (73-68) with 47 seconds left and the Tigers got within three with 21 seconds left when Alex Farrer knocked down a three to make it 76-73. South Carolina’s DeWayne Day missed two free throws with 18 seconds remaining and that gave LSU a chance to tie.
LSU took an ill-advised three by Marcus Thornton with 10 seconds to go but Chris Johnson pulled down the rebound. Before he could either shoot or kick the ball out to a shooter, Johnson was stripped by Fredrick, who was fouled. Fredrick hit one of two free throws to seal the win for South Carolina.
“Marcus (Thornton) threw up the deep three-pointer and I saw it was long and I ust tried to get back in on the action,” said Fredrick. I happened to knock it loose from one of the big men — I can’t remember which one it was — and I was going to throw it down the court but I was afraid to turn it over, so just held onto it and got the foul called.”
South Carolina built big leads in the first half only to have LSU fight its way back into the game. LSU built a five-point lead (49-44) in the second half and had a 57-56 lead with 7:16 remaining when Marcus Thornton knocked down a three, but South Carolina put together a decisive run to built its 12-point lead.
Devan Downey hit a jumper in the lane to give the Gamecocks the lead for good with 6:50 left and then Fredrick followed with a baseline jumper to extend the lead to three (60-57). Evaldus Baniulis hit a three from the left wing with 5:25 to to go make it 63-57 and after a layup by LSU’s Chris Johnson, the Gamecocks scored 10 of the next 12 points to stretch it out to a 73-61 lead.
This was a game decided by turnovers. South Carolina only gave the ball up eight times but the Gamecocks forced 19 LSU turnovers and converted them into 26 points.
LSU outshot South Carolina (27-54, 50 percent) and outrebounded the Gamecocks (42-27) but the Tigers couldn’t overcome their own mistakes.
All five South Carolina starters scored in double figures led by Mike Holmes and Baniulis with 16 each. Dominique Archie added 15 while Fredrick and Downey chipped in with 12 each. Downey, South Carolina’s leading scorer at nearly 20 points per game, made up for his lack of scoring with a superb job of distributing the basketball. The 5-9 sophomore finished with 11 assists, one more than the entire LSU team.
LSU got 22 points and eight rebounds from freshman Anthony Randolph, likely playing his last college basketball game. Randolph is expected to declare for the NBA Draft where he is likely a lottery pick. Marcus Thornton added 17 points, while Johnson had 13 points and 14 rebounds.