COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Freshman Jarrell Martin has been struggling lately, so LSU coach Johnny Jones decided he might be better off coming off the bench.
The switch immediately paid off as the Tigers (10-4, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) pulled out of a two-game slide with a 71-68 win over South Carolina (7-8, 0-2) on Saturday.
Jones didn't bring in Martin until the 12-minute mark of the first half. But he had an immediate impact, scoring eight of LSU's next 11 points as the Tigers starters struggled.
"Coach said he wanted to try something new and everything. I was with it. Whatever is best for the team. Coming off the bench, I felt real relaxed," Martin said.
Martin ended up on the bench as LSU was trying to break a two-game losing streak. Martin scored eight in a loss to Rhode Island, then had just five points on 2-of-8 shooting in Tuesday's 68-50 loss to Tennessee. On Saturday, he made five of his six shots from the field and seven of eight free throws. He also had six rebounds.
The Tigers didn't want to start SEC play 0-2 in a season where they were picked to finish fourth in the league. Jones brought the team together after the 18-point loss and told them how quickly things can fall apart.
"It wasn't too much they had to do different. Just understand how important it was," Jones said.
LSU didn't jump on South Carolina immediately. The Gamecocks hung around, while Martin made sure the Tigers didn't fall in a hole. But LSU stars Jordan Mickey and Johnny O'Bryant III eventually came around. They would each finish with 13 points.
Mickey sank a jumper with the game tied at 42 with 12 minutes left. The Tigers scored on their next four possessions, with O'Bryant and Mickey each hitting two buckets to put LSU ahead 52-45. The Tigers finished the 22-8 run with a 3-pointer from Andre Stringer and a free throw from Martin to lead 64-50 with 5:45 left.
South Carolina would score straight points to cut the Tigers lead to 64-59 with 2:11 to go. But LSU hit seven of 12 free throws down the stretch, forced a couple of turnovers and got an offensive rebound to hang on. Brenton Williams' 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Gamecocks made the score look closer than it was.
South Carolina has lost its first two SEC games for the third straight season. Freshman Sindarius Thornwell led the Gamecocks with 25 points. But South Carolina coach Frank Martin noted his starting frontcourt combined for just four points and starting point guard Thornwell was the leading rebounder with five boards.
"Our inside play is atrocious. We got outplayed at the rim by a freshman," Frank Martin said.
The coach said he planned to go to church Sunday and ask for strength and patience.
"We missed some shots, but we cannot get out-toughed, and we got out-toughed today," he said.
Williams scored 11, but missed a free throw, ending his nation-leading streak at 50 foul shots in a row.
It was a sloppy game as each team turned the ball over 19 times. South Carolina shot 41.7 percent (20 of 48), while LSU shot 39.3 percent (22 of 56). But the Tigers won the game on the boards, pulling down 10 more rebounds.
"Shots didn't go, but I thought we were able to make it up on the other end of the floor with hustle, defense and getting stops when we needed them," Jones said.