CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — AJ Lawson believes South Carolina lived up to its promise on the court against rival Clemson.
The Gamecocks expected to be deep and talented with Lawson, the 6-foot-6 sophomore with an NBA future, leading the way.
But there have been a few setbacks this season, even for Lawson. It all came together for the Gamecocks in their first rivalry win since 2015.
Lawson had 20 points off four 3-pointers and played strongly on both ends of the court.
“I felt really good," Lawson said. ”Tonight we hit open shots and when it came down the stretch, we hit key shots."
Including Lawson, who hit his final 3-pointer after Clemson (5-5) had cut a double-digit lead to six points midway through the second half. Lawson's long-range shot followed one from Jair Bolden to restore the big lead that Clemson could not dent.
“The one thing that's been dragging for us has been perimeter shots,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. This time, the Gamecocks hit several down the stretch “and that allowed us to hold on," he said.
Lawson had just 10 points a week ago in the Gamecocks' home loss to Houston and Martin criticized the sophomore's defense. In South Carolina's first game since, Lawson was active and dynamic all over the court in helping win at the Tigers' Littlejohn Coliseum for the first time since 2011.
Lawson had six rebounds to go along with three steals and three assists for South Carolina (7-4). And he helped the Gamecocks take control with a 14-2 run early in the second half.
Keyshawn Bryant tied things at 29-all with a foul shot, then put South Carolina ahead to stay with two more free throws. Lawson followed with a basket and by the time Alanzo Frink made two more from the line with 11 minutes left, the Gamecocks were ahead 42-31.
Clemson cut the margin to six points on freshman Chase Hunter's 3-pointer, but Bolden and Lawson hit back-to-back triples to restore South Carolina's double-digit lead.
Aamir Simms had team highs with 21 points and eight rebounds before fouling out in the final two minutes for the Tigers (5-5), who have lost four straight and fell to 1-5 this season against Power Five conference opponents.
“I thought those guys just rose to the challenge of the game,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said of the Gamecocks.
“They just played better and made shots,” he said.
Lawson, a potential first-round NBA draft pick next season, got going in a hurry and helped the Gamecocks build a six-point lead midway through the opening half.
South Carolina was still up 24-19 on Lawson's 3-pointer with less than five minutes left in the period. That's when Clemson took off on a 7-0 run to retake the lead, a surge that was started by Simms' three-point play.
Trae Hannibal had a hammer dunk and Alanzo Frink a driving layup to put the Gamecocks ahead 28-26 after a sloppy first half.
The teams' combined for 29 turnovers the first 20 minutes.
Clemson shot less than 30 percent for the game (14-of-50) and had a season-high 22 turnovers.
THE BIG PICTURE
South Carolina: The Gamecocks needed their best player to play like their best player and Lawson did that once more. When South Carolina has Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant playing together and in transition, it will make things difficult for Southeastern Conference opponents when league play begins.
Clemson: The Tigers have struggled to make shots and score points much of the season. The team's problems — the Tigers went about four minutes without a basket in South Carolina's take-charge second half run — will continue if Clemson can't find a way to keep pace when opponents get going.
WAITING ON TRAPP
Clemson is about 10 days away from getting guard Clyde Trapp back from knee surgery earlier this year. Trapp was the team's projected point guard until the injury and the Tigers have struggled to find consistency in the backcourt. Freshmen Al-Amir Dawes and Chase Hunter were a combined 5-of-22 shooting.
RIVALRY DUST UP
Clemson-South Carolina is the Palmetto State's defining sports rivalry and that showed once more at the end of this one. The Tigers' Tevin Mack and the Gamecocks' Jair Bolden were talking to each other when officials quickly separated the sides and sent both teams to their locker rooms without shaking hands.
South Carolina plays another ACC opponent at defending national champion Virginia on Sunday.
Clemson remains at home to play Jacksonville on Friday night.