With back-to-back losses as an in-your-face reminder, the LSU men took the court against Auburn Tuesday night well-versed in how tricky every SEC game can be.
There haven’t been a lot of blowouts through the first few weeks, especially among the teams from the former West Division, and Tuesday’s matchup at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center pitted two similar teams with similar desperate need to not drop further behind the pack in the standings.
Made sense then, of course, that it required a little extra time for LSU and Auburn to settle things.
Auburn forced overtime with three 3-point attempts in a frantic final few seconds, culminating with Varez Ward sinking a game-tying trey with :00.2 on the clock. Unfazed by the troubling conclusion, LSU dominated the extra session to notch a 65-58 triumph.
LSU got 4 points from Justin Hamilton, Andre Stringer’s only points of the night on a clutch 3-pointer and Anthony Hickey’s door-slamming free throws with 3 seconds to go to even its SEC record at 2-2.
It wasn’t pretty by any means, but the win was exactly what LSU (12-6) needed on the heels of losing at Alabama and Arkansas last week.
“We’ll take it and won’t give it back,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said.
Thanks to contributions all over the floor at different times, LSU won’t have to give anything back nor was it left to wonder what might’ve been.
LSU jolted Auburn (11-7, 1-3) early, blazing to a 10-2 lead and maintaining a comfortable double-digit lead from the 7:47 juncture when John Isaac scored on a fast-break layup until 3:47 remained in the first half when Josh Langford’s drive melted the deficit to 28-19.
To build a lead that ballooned as high as 28-15, LSU relied on effective ball movement designed to speed up the tempo. LSU recorded assists on10 of its first 12 made field goals, and grabbed control inside with Hamilton scoring 9 first-half points and Storm Warren 6. Ralston Turner also shrugged off a shooting slump and jacked in his first two 3-pointers on the way to 11 points, one more than he had combined in the first three SEC outings.
Auburn stayed as close as possible behind junior sharpshooter Frankie Sullivan, who scored 10 early points and then gave his club a momentum surge when he pumped in a 70-foot 3-pointer as the first-half horn ended. Center Rob Chubb was the only other AU player who scored more than 2 points in the initial 20 minutes.
Despite Sullivan’s long heave cutting the deficit to 34-27, LSU went to the locker room comfortably in control.
That changed dramatically, though. Auburn notched the first 11 points after halftime with Sullivan cranking in two more 3s and a stingy zone defense frustrating LSU into missing its first five floor shots – four from long range – and struggling to find anything easily.
Hamilton couldn’t find an opening inside and the guards struggled to feed him as Chubb and forward Kenny Gabriel pestered him in the paint.
“They came out and fought,” Warren said of AU’s comeback. “One thing (Johnson) told us was that they were going to fight from beginning to end. We had to stay together as a team, stay under control and play our defense.”
Another Auburn flurry padded the 11-0 surge into 19-4, with Langford finishing the burst with a shot from the lane that put AU in front 46-38 with 11:32 left in the game.
|Malcolm White: Hit a key shot to stem Auburn's second-half tide.|
Malcolm White hit one of the biggest shots of the night when he stuck a baseline jumper and Turner followed with his third trey from the left wing. Hickey hit one of two foul shots, Warren scored in transition on a pass from Turner to even the score 46-46 and Hickey put LSU back in front when he broke the Auburn press for a coast-to-coast layup to finish off a 10-0 haymaker.
While LSU found a groove, Auburn missed 10 shots in a row until Gabriel scored inside to even the score at 48-48 with 5:29 on the clock.
“I thought that when we got up six we relaxed,” AU coach Tony Barbee said. “We had our opportunities. We were up six and had three or four stops in a row where we could have taken advantage and made it a double-digit lead. We come down and our post guys can’t catch. Open shots, we can’t make them.”
Neither team could shake the other down the stretch. Whenever LSU regained the upper hand, Auburn responded and knotted the score at 50-50, 53-53 on Gabriel’s thunderous follow dunk and finally 56-56 when Ward buried the 3 right before regulation evaporated.
On the fateful possession, Auburn got the ball with 21.4 second left when Hickey missed the second of two foul shots. Gabriel got off the first trey and snared his own rebound, Sullivan misfired – one of the seven straight shots he missed over the final 20:38 – and Chubb corralled the carom right in front of the rim.
Chubb spotted Ward near the top of the key and he launched and sank the 3 with a defender in his face to forge the 56-56 deadlock.
In overtime, Auburn coughed the ball up on its first four possessions, two on offensive fouls. LSU missed five of its first six shots, but Hamilton scored inside on a follow shot for a 58-56 lead at the 3:12 mark.
After Sullivan’s next-to-last miss, Hickey controlled the rebound pushed the ball up the court and fed Stringer on the right wing for a 3-pointer. Stringer was 0-for-6 until then but swished the trey for a 61-56 lead.
The only points Auburn got in OT came on Chubb’s tip-in with 58.2 seconds left.
“In the timeout, Coach said ‘Draw attention to yourself and make that extra pass,’ and Andre was able to knock it down,” said Hickey, who wound up with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
Added Hamilton, “Coach reminded us the last time we were in overtime (South Alabama), we had a dead spot and they beat us. We wanted to come out in this overtime and make sure we had a spark.”
That spark was there and LSU held on for a win it needed heading into a stretch of three games against ranked foes, two on the road, starting with a trip to 17th-ranked Florida on Saturday.
“(Tuesday) was really big especially with those last two road losses,” Turner said. “We have three ranked teams and we know it’s going to be tough. We’re going to need everybody to play well.”
Hamilton finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds for LSU, while Warren had 10 and 7. Sullivan’s torrid first half led to 19 points, while Chubb produced a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.