COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- LSU's first Southeastern Conference title in six years comes as a surprise to a lot of people, including the Tigers' coach.
"I'm surprised because we start three freshman and a sophomore," John Brady said. "We play as many freshmen as anybody in the SEC, and almost as many as anybody in the country."
Sophomore Glen Davis scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lift No. 21 LSU to a 64-61 victory over South Carolina on Tuesday night, giving the Tigers at least a share of the SEC title.
"It feels good but we're not finished yet," Davis said. "We have a goal and its right in front of us. We have to go and accomplish it."
After a sluggish start to the season, surprising LSU (21-7, 13-2) sits alone atop Southeastern Conference. A win Saturday against Ole Miss would give LSU the outright title.
In an atypical year for the SEC, where conference powers like Kentucky and Mississippi State have faltered, the Tigers have a young group of guys who haven't looked back after an 8-5 start.
Davis is a big reason for the Tigers' success.
The SEC's leading scorer has eight consecutive double-doubles. He was held to just six points in the opening half against South Carolina, but he never got frustrated. Instead, LSU pounded the ball inside to him and the big guy helped the Tigers capture their first league title in six years.
The Gamecocks (14-14, 5-10) lost another close one, a recurring theme in Columbia this year. Tarence Kinsey led South Carolina, which has lost four straight, with 21 points. The Gamecocks are 1-6 in games decided by three points or less.
South Carolina had a chance late in the game trailing by two, but Kinsey was called for traveling. Tasmin Mitchell made a free throw with 26.3 seconds to put LSU ahead 62-59.
South Carolina tried to find Kinsey for a 3-pointer on its next possession, but couldn't, and Rocky Trice missed from beyond the arc. Brandon Wallace tipped in the rebound, but Davis made two free throws to seal the win.
Tre Kelley's desperation 3-pointer from midcourt at the buzzer was well short.
The teams traded the lead on many occasions during the second half with Kinsey and Davis matching each other point-for-point for nearly a nine-minute stretch.
Davis scored 14 points during an 8:47 stretch, but Kinsey answered with 14 points of his own, including four 3-pointers. South Carolina took a one-point lead with 2:38 to go on a 3-pointer by Kinsey, but Davis' basket with 2:15 remaining put LSU up for good.
Mitchell added several key free throws down the stretch. The freshman also bailed the Tigers out of a sloppy first half with 11 points, finishing the game with 20.
Darrel Mitchell, who had been averaging 18 points a game, was held to 11.
"The plan from the beginning was to try and make it as much a 94-foot game as we possibly could," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said of the Gamecocks' pressure. "I think we did a really good job of that, particularly in the first 10 minutes of the game."
The Gamecocks led by as many as 10 points in the first half after Kelley found Wallace on a couple of key baskets, including an alley-oop that put South Carolina ahead 28-19 with 5:13 remaining.
After Kinsey's 3-pointer put the Gamecocks up 31-21 with 4:22 to go, South Carolina went the rest of the half without a basket until Wallace's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
They continued the drought in the second half, going more than five minutes without a field goal.
That's when Davis stepped up.
During the key stretch, he scored 14 of the Tigers' 17 points. The Gamecocks tried to wear down the stocky, 6-foot-9 center, but they couldn't keep it going in the second half.
"The guy's an athlete, I don't care if he's 310 pounds or 350," Odom said. "I mean, he's an athlete, he's well-conditioned. It's tough to wear him down. In truth, as hard as we worked defensively in the first half, I think our defenders wore down."
LSU overcame the absence of freshman forward Tyrus Thomas, who
was averaging 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds a game. Thomas sprained his ankle in the Tigers' 71-67 victory over Kentucky on Saturday and did not make the trip.
"Character is the way I reacted to the first half and that shows a lot," Davis said. "That shows a lot of maturity. Things weren't going my way. I missed a lot of shots and I came in at halftime and just said stick with it, keep playing and keep your head up."