And it was one of the most entertaining Alabama basketball games of the year.
Two weeks ago in Baton Rouge Alabama played LSU close for 30 minutes, lost by 11 and their effort was applauded. This time the Tide held up down the stretch. There were 18 lead changes and five ties. Neither team ever had more than a five point lead until Ron Steele hit two free throws with 1:05 remaining on the clock to give Bama at 64-58 margin.
"LSU is the team that we're all going to be chasing, it's no question," Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried said. "We're going to put ourselves back in the discussion of whether we're a postseason team a little bit."
It was Alabama first win over a ranked opponent since last year's home drubbing of Mississippi State.
As he has done before, Steele took control of the game in the final contentious minutes. He hit six of six free throw attempts in the final minute and 25 seconds to preserve the game, and it was a goal-tending call on Steele attempt around the eight minute mark that gave Alabama the lead for good.
Alabama improved to 12-8 overall and 5-3 in the conference. LSU dropped to 15-6 overall, 7-1 in league play.
Bama won it with defense. Jean Felix hounded LSU's Darrell Mitchell all day on the perimeter, holding him to four of 13 shooting. "Felix's job he did on Darrell was a key to us not getting in a flow of offense," LSU Coach John Brady said.
The officials employed the "no blood, no foul" rule in the paint.
In one of the game's wildest sequences, at the two-minute mark second half, Brandon "Big Baby" Davis faced the basket against Richard Hendrix. As he put the ball on the floor, Steele came over and was steam-rolled by Davis, no foul. Four steps later Davis put up an errant shot, and as Hendrix cleared the rebound his elbow caught Davis in the mouth, resulting in a busted mouth for Davis and a charging foul against Hendrix.
"I like to bang," Hendrix said. "A lot of things weren't called and we had to do what all we could. I felt it was more high-energy defense from beginning to end. Last time we played at LSU good defense for the first 30 minutes and the last 10 minutes we kind of fell apart."
Davis' lay-in on the following possession cut the lead to two points before the Ron Steele free throw parade.
Steele led all scorers with 21 points. He upped his free throw shooting in Southeastern Conference play to 32 of 34 (94.1 percent). He is 60 of 67 from the charity stripe on the year.
Felix held up defensively for the entire game, and also had one of his better offensive performances with 15 points on five of eight shooting. His behind the back pass to Alonzo Gee for a breakaway dunk was highlight-reel material.
Alabama played man-to-man defense almost the entire game. When LSU entered the ball to Davis in the post, a Crimson Tide guard came over to double team. Last time they played, Alabama double-teamed from the opposite post, allowing Tyrus Thomas too many offensive rebounds and putbacks.
It took all seven players contributing, too. Hendrix had eight points and seven rebounds while drawing the assignment of being the primary defender of Big Baby Davis. Jermareo Davidson had 13 points and six boards. Brandon Hollinger hit a three at the end of the first half to put Bama up 37-35 at the break. Evan Brock didn't score but had four rebounds and an assist.
The game was a dead heat in virtually every statistical category:
Field goals made: 25-25
Field goals attempted: 59-57 LSU
Three pointers made: 7-7
Offensive rebounds: 13-13
Defensive reobounds: 21-21
Fouls: 12-14, UA
Assists: 15-11, LSU
Blocks: 8-7, LSU
Alabama continues a brief two-game stay at home Wednesday night against Vanderbilt. That game will start at 7 p.m., with television coverage from JP.