Tigers remain unbeaten in SEC

Auburn appeared to be the least formidable Southeastern Conference opponent thus far for conference leading LSU when the visiting Tigers walked into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center Wednesday night.

But, Auburn's 9-8 overall and 1-5 SEC record defied its play as the visiting Tigers gave the hometown Tigers all they could handle for 35 minutes in gritty 84-69 LSU victory.


The win improved the 24th-ranked Tigers' record to 15-5 overall and 7-0 in conference play, allowing them to expand their lead to three games in the SEC Western division after an 88-79 Alabama loss to Georgia Wednesday. LSU holds a one-game lead over Tennessee for first place in the conference overall.


The Tigers, both teams, played hard but also played sloppy at times, with LSU handing Auburn the ball 19 times and Auburn handing it back 15 times on turnovers. The two teams grabbed 30 and 29 rebounds respectively. The statistical disparity was found in the shooting column, where Auburn's stats showed just 41.1 percent of their shots fell while LSU hit 63 percent of its attempts and 5-of-10 three point attempts.


LSU coach John Brady was quick to point out he believed his team took Auburn's best punch and withstood and he expects his team will see take the best shot from every opponent the rest of the season.


"I told our team at half time that Auburn played harder than us at times," Brady said. "We made them miss a lot but we gave up too many loose balls and allowed them to shoot it again."


It wasn't just in the first half that LSU appeared to be out-hustled by its opponent. After trailing by seven at halftime, Auburn quickly went down by nine points as Darrel Mitchell grabbed an entry pass from Garrett Temple and laid-in a wide open look at the basket just 11 seconds into the second half to give his team a 42-33 lead. Mitchell finished the game leading all scorers with 27 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the floor and 9-of-9 from the free throw line.


But, Auburn whittled away the LSU lead over the next four minutes and cut the disadvantage to 48-47 on a three-pointer by Frank Tolbert with 15:37 to play. Little more than one minute later, the score was tied 50-50. A little more than two minutes later, Auburn took a 54-52 lead. Tolbert paced Auburn with 15 points before fouling out with 6:53 to play. Three other Auburn players finished with double digits in scoring.


LSU was able to respond by constantly passing the ball into the lane to Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas, who each finished the contest with 17 points. The home Tigers were also helped by sixth-man Darnell Lazare who made an acrobatic running jump shot off the glass over two Auburn defenders with 11:51 to play to give LSU a slim 56-54 lead.


Lazare's leaning jumper started a 13-5 LSU run that lasted until the 7:12 mark, gave the home team a 68-59 lead and put it ahead for the rest of the game.


"Auburn was being very physical and aggressive and we weren't getting the calls from the referees we felt like we deserved," said Thomas, who along with Mitchell and Brady were critical of the officiating crew. "But, Auburn played well too. They were very tough."


The two Tiger squads beat and harassed each other at both ends of the floor during a first half that was loose, sloppy, poorly officiated and down right ugly at times. LSU trailed through the first 3:44 as Auburn was able to penetrate into the lane and make a few easy baskets despite the presence of Thomas and Davis.


But, LSU was able to grab the lead for the first time as Thomas answered on the offensive end with a thunderous fast break, alley-oop slam on a Mitchell lob, giving their team a 9-8 lead at the 16:16 mark.


The two teams traded baskets for a while before Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo seized the chance to vent his frustration on referee Jamie Luckie with 11:58 to play in the wake of a made jump shot by Tasmin Mitchell. Lebo claimed Mitchell was out of bounds when he took the shot, Luckie disagreed and Darrel Mitchell was awarded two technical foul free throws.


The two good freebies put Auburn in a five-point hole, 18-13, and LSU ahead for the rest of the half. Brady took his chance to vent frustration on Luckie with 8:14 remaining in the half drawing a technical of his own.


"Their coach wasn't very happy with the officials and neither was I and neither were the players," said Brady when asked about some of the calls made by Luckie and fellow officials Bruce Benedict and Carlos Reyes. "I'm not trying to be critical. I'm just observing what you observed."


Auburn was able to cut the lead by just one point as a result of the ensuing free throws and possession.  The visiting Tigers cut the lead to one point three times in the following five minutes but relented a bit in the last 2:55 of the half allowing LSU to extend its lead to 40-30 with 1:15 on Lazare's first attempted and made three-pointer of his career. The hometown Tigers took a 40-33 lead into the locker room.


"We knew Auburn was going to give us their best shot," Lazare said. "It's going to be a challenge for us every night. We knew they were going to play hard. We just wanted to adjust and win."

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