South Carolina Basketball: Gamecocks win SEC Tournament championship after ugly melee

South Carolina basketball wins the SEC Tournament championship for the 8th time in 10 years after beating the LSU Tigers.
South Carolina basketball guard MiLaysia Fulwiley
South Carolina basketball guard MiLaysia Fulwiley / Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK
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South Carolina basketball fans had barely had time for their hearts to recover after Saturday night's buzzer-beating win over Tennessee when the SEC Tournament championship game came around on Sunday afternoon.

As was expected, Dawn Staley's South Carolina Gamecocks and Kim Mulkey's LSU Tigers found each other in the final game in Greenville. USC was going for its 8th SEC Tournament trophy in the last 10 seasons, while LSU was looking for just their third tourney title in school history.

The current national championship favorite (South Carolina) and the preseason national championship favorite (LSU) tipped off at 3:00 in a Gamecock-friendly crowd in Greenville, South Carolina's Bon Secours Wellness Arena, and Angel Reese beat Saturday night's hero Kamilla Cardoso to secure the first possession for the Tigers.

It only took 10 seconds for LSU to get on the board as Aneesah Morrow got a quick layup off of a feed from Reese. The two teams traded turnovers and missed shots before Kamilla Cardoso tied the game 2-2 after running the floor in transition. A Te-Hina Paopao steal and assist to Bree Hall got Dawn Staley's team a quick lead before Reese tied the game again.

Two more turnovers from the Gamecocks resulted in 5 points for LSU before Paopao stopped the 7-0 run with a 3-pointer. After a few frenetically-paced possessions, LSU led 13-7 as Reese, Morrow, and Hailey Van Lith had all 13 points on 6-9 shooting. In contrast, Carolina was shooting just 33%.

Freshman spark plug MiLaysia Fulwiley nailed a 3 with a hand in her face and then emerged from an out-of-bounds play scrum with the basketball, drawing a foul. 2 Kamilla Cardoso blocks on Angel Reese eventually led to an LSU shot clock violation. Fulwiley then found Cardoso on a delayed pick and roll before freshmen MiKaylah Williams and MiLaysia Fulwiley quickly traded baskets.

A Te-Hina Paopao pick-6 gave USC their first lead since it was 4-2, and then another steal from the veteran guard resulted in a run-out for Tessa Johnson. The freshman was fouled in the closing seconds of the quarter, and the two free throws put the pseudo-home team on top 18-15 after their 11-2 run.

The 2nd quarter began with two Chloe Kitts buckets sandwiched around an Aneesah Morrow 3-ball. Raven Johnson scored and freshman Janae Kent hit a long ball to make the score 24-21 in favor of the Gamecocks. More turnovers (the count was up to 16 combined already) sent the game to a review as the second was an offensive foul by Chloe Kitts in which Morrow flopped as if she had been hit in the head (she wasn't).

Kamilla Cardoso's third block led to a transition opportunity for the Gamecocks, and Raven Johnson stepped into a 3-pointer behind the break to put her team up by 6 points. Flau'jae Johnson shoved Raven Johnson to the floor, got away with it, and then canned a 3-pointer. Angel Reese then hit Kamilla Cardoso with a cheap shot (after pulling her hair on the previous possession) that resulted in an intentional foul call.

Te-Hina Paopao hit both free throws, and when the Gamecocks kept the ball, Tessa Johnson was fouled and hit both of her freebies, as well. Flau'jae Johnson got a shot to go through contact, and the old-fashioned 3-point play cut the Carolina lead to just 4 points. A 1-2 trip to the free throw line for Aalyah Del Rosario made the score 31-28 with 3 minutes to play.

Without a field goal for almost 5 minutes, MiLaysia Fulwiley finally ended the skid with a transition bucket. The fouls started to pile up a bit for USC, and LSU took advantage of the fact that Kamilla Cardoso (2 fouls) and Ashlyn Watkins (2 fouls) were on the bench. As the clock ticked away, LSU led 22-12 in the rebounding battle.

A final minute 2nd chance opportunity ended with a 3-pointer from Fulwiley, but Hailey Van Lith answered with a midrange jumper. As halftime began, the Gamecocks led the Tigers 36-32.

Both teams missed multiple shots to start the half before Bree Hall went coast-to-coast. The junior wing pulled down a rebound and attacked the LSU defense. She got a circus shot to go and converted the 3-point play after a foul. Then, Kamilla Cardoso was called for a weak foul, her 3rd, sending her to the bench. Another transition chance saw the ball wind up in the hands of the country's best sharpshooter. Te-Hina Paopao's 2nd 3-ball put USC up 42-33 and forced LSU's Kim Mulkey to call a timeout.

A nice touch pass from Paopao to Sania Feagin netted the Gamecocks a paint score, and Chloe Kitts made two free throws after being fouled following an offensive rebound. Even after an Angel Reese bucket, Dawn Staley's team led 46-35.

The lead shrunk to 8 points after a 3-point play from big Aalyah Del Rosario, and then to 6 after two Aneesah Morrow foul shots. MiLaysia Fulwiley ended the run with an athletic driving layup through 3 different LSU Tigers. After two more Morrow free throws, Fulwiley continued her scoring excellence with a 3-pointer off of some elite off-ball movement that left Hailey Van Lith looking like a real-life Mr. Krabs meme. Del Rosario scored in response, but Fulwiley dropped another long ball through the hoop to go up by 10 again.

By the time the 3rd quarter ended, Fulwiley's scoring total sat at 20 (in 11 minutes!!!), but the Gamecocks only led by a score of 59-53 because of a 9-0 run by LSU.

After not playing much in the 3rd quarter due to foul trouble, Kamilla Cardoso and Ashlyn Watkins asserted themselves early in the 4th period. They combined for 3 rebounds, 1 block, and 6 points in the opening 2 minutes of the quarter. A Te-Hina Paopao pull-up put the Gamecocks back up by 10, but Hailey Van Lith scored back-to-back buckets to reduce the lead to 5.

A bad stretch of play by Carolina (on both ends of the court) allowed LSU to continue their run until they scored 9 straight points. Leading by just one, Gamecock guard MiLaysia Fulwiley connected with Raven Johnson connected for a bucket, and Bree Hall converted a 2nd chance. After four offensive rebounds on one possession, LSU couldn't convert, and Bree Hall scored again to expand the lead to 73-66 with just over 2 minutes left.

As the referees failed to keep control of the physicality of the game (and the smack-talking), something was brewing. Things got ugly as Flau'jae Johnson intentionally fouled MiLaysia Fulwiley on a potential breakaway. After the foul call, Johnson shoved Ashlyn Watkins, and Kamilla Cardoso retaliated. In a brief melee, someone inadvertently hit Cardoso in her mouth, and Johnson's brother jumped onto the court to try to confront Cardoso before getting escorted out in handcuffs. Multiple other LSU fans were removed by police.

When the dust settled, Flau'jae Johnson was called for an intentional foul (nothing for the shove), Cardoso was ejected for "fighting" (normally comes with a suspension), and both teams had everyone but many were ejected for leaving the bench area. Only Sania Feagin, Raven Johnson, MiLaysia Fulwiley, Te-Hina Paopao, Ashlyn Watkins, and Bree Hall were left for USC. Flau'jae Johnson, Angel Reese, Aneesah Morrow, Hailey Van Lith, and MiKaylah Williams were left for LSU.

After the free throws, Carolina led by 7, but LSU got the ball back because of the fighting ejection for Cardoso. Reese scored quickly, and with 2 minutes left, the margin was just 5 points. After a stop, though, Sania Feagin knocked down 2 free throws, and the defense forced another miss from LSU. MiLaysia Fulwiley canned two free throws to ice the game, and for the 8th time in 10 years, the Gamecocks are SEC Tournament champions. MiLaysia Fulwiley was tournament MVP.

79. 533. Final. 72. 529. South Carolina Basketball vs. LSU Tigers