So when LSU wrapped up a 67-58 triumph against a depleted Alabama team Saturday night, nobody in purple-and-gold was talking about giving this one back.
The Tigers survived a mighty Crimson Tide second-half surge behind the front-court tandem of Justin Hamilton and Johnny O'Bryant down the stretch to secure the victory.
All four of LSU's SEC wins have come at home, and the latest one required some hard work and tenacity.
"That's a good win for us," Tigers' coach Trent Johnson said after his team climbed to 14-10 overall, 4-6 in the SEC. "Any win we can get this time of year is a good win."
It was a grinding battle for survival when it maybe shouldn't have been, considering Alabama was without four starters – three who were suspended a few hours before the opening tip.
|Justin Hamilton: 12 points in the 2nd half helped fuel the Tigers' victory|
The missing players included leading scorer and rebounder JaMychal Green and point guard Trevor Releford, who torched LSU for 20 points in an earlier meeting.
The Tide made sure it wasn't a cakewalk, though, uncorking a 12-0 haymaker to begin the second half and erase much of a 31-15 halftime deficit created when Alabama went the final 4:59 without a point.
Rodney Cooper ignited the Tide with eight points in a 98-second eruption early in the second half and LSU aided the cause by missing its first six field goals.
The Tigers finally regained their footing when O'Bryant and Hamilton took over inside, scoring 12 points each after halftime to keep LSU in control. Despite a gritty second half when it outscored the Tigers 43-36, Alabama (16-8, 5-5) never took the lead, getting as close as three points twice.
"I thought we played pretty good the first half," Johnson said. "I didn't like our body language to start the second half. … We found a way to play through a little adversity, kept our composure."
A lot of that composure came from Hamilton (21 points, 6 rebounds) and O'Bryant (17 points, 9 rebounds 7-of-8 from the free-throw line).
With the Tide on fire, O'Bryant finally snapped the Tigers out of their second-half funk when he grabbed Ralston Turner's missed 3-pointer and followed it in at the 14:54 mark to nudge LSU's lead back to 33-27.
That stickback launched a 10:45 span featuring the two Tigers' big men teamed up for 22 of LSU's 26 points. When Alabama clipped the deficit to 42-39 on Charles Hankerson's 3-pointer, Hamilton scored 10 of the next 14 points, culminating with a smooth jump shot from the circle with 5:10 to go that expanded the difference back to 56-48.
"Me and Johnny, in practice, are always working together, and we noticed they were playing high side or behind and found each other really well and it worked out great," said Hamilton, who hit 9-of-12 field goals and was 3-for-3 at the foul stripe.
|Johnny O'Bryant: Played well off Justin Hamilton to give LSU a dominant presence in the paint.|
Added O'Bryant, who twice fed Hamilton on assists inside from the high post, "Justin does a great job of ducking and sealing his man, so it was just a simple pass to him. Just get it down there. He does a great job on the low block. I just try to get it to him as much as possible."
As good as the two big men were, they needed help to offset Cooper. After a 6-point first half, the 6-foot-6 Cooper was nearly unstoppable in the second with 22 points.
Cooper scored 17 points in the opening 8:05 of the second half – the last 10 of Alabama's 12-0 run and had the Tide on the verge of a stunning comeback.
While Cooper was the ringleader, he got help from Nick Jacobs, another of the four freshmen who started due to the suspensions. Jacobs gave Alabama an inside presence in the second half with 10 points.
Johnson wasn't surprised that the Tide came out fighting in the second half and played well without the four veterans who have carried so much of the offensive load this season.
"It's competition," he said. "Somebody on that team is going to have an opportunity to step up and play. It's not about who they didn't have. It's always going to be about our approach to a game in terms of competing."
That competition reached a zenith in the closing minutes Saturday when Alabama again refused to go away and closed within 57-51 on Trevor Lacy's trey from the right win with 2:25 to go.
LSU got the ball onto its end of the floor against the Tide press and Johnson called a timeout. With the shot clock dripping away, Tigers' point guard Anthony Hickey slid around a Hamilton screen and dribbled his way open for a 3-pointer – his only made field goal of the day – to pad the lead to 60-51 with 1:38 on the clock.
"I thought Anthony showed great courage when he hit that 3," Johnson said.
Moments later, Hickey knifed through the Tide defense to find O'Bryant for an alley-oop slam-dunk that supplied the exclamation point. Andre Stringer led a late-game parade at the free-throw line, hitting four in a row to ice the victory.
LSU shot 56.5% from the floor in the second half (13 of 23), knocked down 9-of-11 free throws (17-of-21 in the game) and played solid defense in spurts to stave off Alabama.
That all added up to an LSU win that seemed so much like a foregone conclusion with the Tide missing so many bodies.
"They made their punch in the second half and we made ours in the first," said Hickey, who contributed 5 assists, 5 rebounds and only one turnover in 30 minutes. "We had to make an adjustment, called the timeout to get everybody settled and then we started playing back together. We started getting the same shots. Everybody kept shooting the ball with confidence and as the game went on, we started knocking down shots and pulled out the win."
No matter what kind of wrapper it came in.