Somewhere along the path of every basketball season, a game pops up that’s a microcosm of how a team plays or where it’s headed or both.
When a team finds a way to win that kind of game, a season can start to take a much different shape.
For LSU, that moment might just have arrived Tuesday – perhaps in time to be a launching pad for a late-season push.
Point guard Anthony Hickey’s tear-drop layup with 1.4 seconds left in overtime propelled the Tigers past Mississippi State 69-67, a second win in a row for LSU for the first time in SEC play.
Hickey’s game-winner stood up when Andre Stringer swiped the Bulldogs’ inbound pass and triggered an explosion by the LSU bench after its fifth SEC home win in six games.
Leading up to Hickey’s clutch shot, he also sliced through the State defense for a bank shot with 23 seconds to go, but Bulldogs’ forward Renardo Sidney banged in a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to whittle the Tigers’ lead to 67-66 with 12.2 seconds on the clock.
Following a timeout, Ralston Turner inexplicably threw the inbound pass right to State’s Brian Bryant, who was fouled as he drove for a shot. Bryant made the first foul shot, but missed the second and Storm Warren rebounded to set up Hickey’s heroics.
“I don’t know how many lives we’ve got, but we found a way to win,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said.
Is it a turning point for LSU this season, and perhaps even beyond? Time will tell, but there’s no question the victory ranks among the biggest for the Tigers this season and arguably the last three seasons.
Johnson stuck to the party line – that all wins are big and equal – but he gave in ever so slightly.
“It’s a good win a big win because of how hard they worked,” Johnson said.
The Tigers (15-10, 5-6 SEC) had to climb back from a 17-point first-half deficit and then survive a second half punctuated by eight ties and four lead changes to secure this taut triumph and a third consecutive split with a former Western Division foe this season.
The Bulldogs (19-7, 6-5) made several lunges to pull away after LSU caught them early in the second half. But every time things began to look bleak, somebody did something to get the Tigers back in the hunt.
“We wanted to win the game,” said Stringer, who scored 10 points, dished out 5 assists and came up with 3 steals. “Guys made plays. My teammates opened it up for us, everybody shared the ball and when you do things like that, you come out on top.”
There were plenty of plays to go around and the Tigers shared the load as well as they have all season, using what Johnson called a “by-committee” approach.
Ralston Turner led LSU with 17 points, Justin Hamilton added 14 (nine in the last 2:04 and in overtime) and Storm Warren notched a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Hamilton also had 4 steals, while Turner and Chris Bass chipped in with 3 assists apiece.
All of that was needed for LSU to take another step forward.
“We can’t beat teams that talented and that good unless we do that,” Johnson said. “It’s just the way it is for us.”
This one did not get off to a promising start for the Tigers.
State barreled to a 30-13 lead when Dee Bost cranked in a third consecutive 3-pointer at the 6:17 juncture of the first half.
At that point, the Bulldogs had nailed 12-of-21 floor shots and 4-of-7 from downtown – sparked by Bost who scored 13 points, his team’s first four and then the barrage of 3s.
LSU struggled out of the gate, missing 14 of its first 20 field goals and hitting scoring lulls of 5:18 and 4:22 while the Bulldogs stormed to the sizable lead.
Before the game got too out of hand, the Tigers found a rhythm right before halftime with a 9-2 surge that whittled the difference to a more manageable 32-22 when John Isaac coaxed a short jumper to roll in.
The deficit stayed at 10 until Turner closed the opening 20 minutes by pumping in a 3-pointer from the right wing right before the clock expired to get LSU within 36-29.
Stringer came out of the locker room firing and triggered a 7-0 blast that squared the game 36-36 with 2½ minutes gone in the second half.
|Ralston Turner: Led LSU with 17 points and scored 7 in a row to spark a second-half rally|
“We were just trying to play hard to see if we could make a game of it,” Turner said of erasing the 17-point State lead.
“We did a good job of putting the bad start behind us and just kept fighting.”
The Bulldogs threatened to pull back away with 10-1 skein after LSU pulled even, sparked by forward Renardo Sidney’s six points.
But Turner – on his way to a game-high 17 points – fueled another Tigers’ rally with seven straight points, two free throws after a Malcolm White dunk and then two feeds to Warren as LSU blew back in front 54-50.
The Tigers staged their two comebacks largely with Hickey and Hamilton not scoring much, and those two have been as valuable to LSU’s success as anyone else this season.
Balance, good ball movement and suffocating defense – especially Stringer on Bost – provided the framework for the biggest comeback win in Johnson’s four-year tenure.
Stringer clamped down on Bost, who scored only two more points after his 3-point eruption and missed five of his final six floor shots. With the senior point guard frustrated unable to generate his own offense, the Bulldogs scuffled.
They missed nine of their final 11 3-pointers and wound up with more turnovers (16) than made field goals (15) after the torrid start that led to the 30-13 bulge.
“I tried to be a little physical with (Bost) because I know he doesn’t like that,” Stringer said.
“He was pretty hot, and I told Coach I was the one who wanted to try to slow him down. It gave (State) a little more different look and it worked for us (Tuesday).”
Worked well enough to give the Tigers a chance.
State didn’t go away down 54-50, scoring six points in a row to go back in front on Rodney Hood’s fast-break layup.
|Justin Hamilton: Came alive for 9 of his 14 points down the stretch.|
Hamilton answered, though, with a smooth turnaround jumper over the 6-foot-10 Sidney with 2:04 to go.
Then after Arnett Moultrie converted a pair of free throws with 1:20 left, Hamilton calmly matched him when he was fouled inside with 41.6 ticks to go.
LSU had a chance to win in regulation, thanks again to Hamilton, who drew a charge from Moultrie with 29.5 seconds on the clock. But the Tigers’ offense was out of whack on the final trip and the result was a rushed 3-point attempt by Hamilton, who had hit one earlier in the game.
Unfazed, LSU and Hamilton grabbed command in OT. Hamilton swished his next 3-point try to knot the score 61-61 and put the Tigers ahead 63-61 when he snatched a pass from Hickey for an alley-oop slam dunk.
That all set up the furious final few seconds of twists and turns and this time Hickey delivered, not once but twice, to lift LSU to the dramatic triumph.
“Everybody was hitting big shots around me and that took the pressure off me,” Hickey said.
“I just floated it in. My team has confidence in me, and I have confidence in them. I took the shot and it went it.”
It went in to keep the Tigers on an upward arc and a remaining schedule that has no teams left who were above .500 in the SEC entering this week.
The next step is Saturday at South Carolina, and for the first time this season, LSU will go into a league game with back-to-back wins to build off of.
“This group has been resilient,” Johnson said.
“We’ve just got to continue to fight.”