LSU takes bite out of Cougars

Behind the hot hands of Bo Spencer and Marcus Thornton the LSU Tigers were able to both come back and pull away on Tony Bennett's Washington State Cougars (8-4) Saturday, moving to 10-1 on the season with the 64-52 win.

Two of the hottest defenses in the NCAA this season faced off Saturday afternoon at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, and the marquis match up became a bit of what everyone expected.


"That was a good win," said LSU head coach Trent Johnson. "We beat a good team and I'm happy for them because they worked so hard. They worked so hard and the thing I like about games like this is that there wasn't one time where we came out of a timeout that we weren't engaged, weren't listening and weren't ready to execute.


"We came out of timeouts down the stretch with calls for certain guys and Marcus comes off to execute, Quintin [Thornton] executes a screen and Garrett [Temple] comes off executing. We are getting better."


Spencer led the Tigers in scoring, shooting 5-of-11 from the field for 19 points.


Marcus Thornton made it another big night on his end, hitting four three pointers en route to 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field.


While Temple was the only other Tiger to reach double digits in scoring, Johnson's squad was able to put things together at the right time, closing out with an 11-2 run to seal the Cougars' fate.


Arguably the biggest play of the game for the Tigers came at the hands of Thornton, who pulled up from the top of the key to nail a three pointer, giving the Tigers the 50-49 lead with 5:43 remaining in the second half.


The shot brought the crowd to life for the first time in the game, and the emotion would be something that the Tiger squad used to their advantage down the home stretch.


"We feed off of the crowd," Thornton said. "If things aren't going right and the crowd gets in the game, we play off of them. We try to get behind them and give them what they want. The crowd plays a big role in our success. The crowd started getting in the game and we started feeling it, and players made shots."


Johnson added to Thornton's feeling on the crowd support, though he pointed to the team's ability to shake any nerves as the key to getting the win.


"The crowd was great, but we had a series of time outs and then came out of them with Garrett making some plays," he said. "I told them, ‘Let's enjoy this moment. Let's enjoy playing. This is what you play for. This is the stuff you play for. Just relax and if you have a shot, take a shot. Play within your rules defensively and don't gamble.'


"You have to have to give these guys something to help them with. You have to encourage them. You have to stay positive."


And the Tigers were able to do just that, seeing Thornton add another three at the 1:55 mark, putting LSU up for good at 57-52, holding the Cougars scoreless the rest of the way.


"It's tough for us," Bennett said. "We've got to battle to get shots. There were two things we needed to have down the stretch. We needed our defense to make them shoot tough shots. We gave up a couple of easy ones. Then, we had to be sound and get quality shots at the end of the game, and those two things just went right off the edge of the court."


Temple led the way for the Tigers on defense, recording six steals and a pair of blocks. On the offensive end, the senior guard scored 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting. The Baton Rouge-native played all but two minutes of the contest, the most by any Tiger player.


After the game, Johnson spoke on the senior guard's leadership on the court.


"He's been there done that," he said. "He needs to lead. It's interesting because sometimes kids give leadership lip service and it's phony. His whole thing and persona is real. I've been around this a long time and this kid has discretion in terms of his leadership."


Temple and the Tigers forced the Cougars to 18 total turnovers on the night, a stat which Bennett points to as the key to his team's missteps.


"I told our guys that if we're going to have any chance to be competitive and be successful, we'll be in a lot of tight games," he said. "Until we learn how to take care of the ball, we'll never win those games at the end.


"It's very disappointing to end like that. They battled for awhile through some of our mistakes, but that one hurt a lot. That's the way this game goes, but we learned something. I don't like what we learned unfortunately, but that's the way it goes."


WSU senior Aron Baynes was held to one of his least productive games on the season, scoring nine points on 4-of-6 shooting. One better, the Tiger defense only allowed the Cairns, Australia-native to get to the charity stripe just once on the night, where he split his pair of free throws.


The game opened up slow on both ends, seeing the games first points coming at the hands of Baynes with 17:18 left to play in the half.


The score remained at 2-0 until nearly five minutes into the half, when Spencer knocked down a three on his first shot of the night.


Spencer moved the Tigers to a 6-3 lead with 11:25 left to play off of a three pointer assisted by Thornton, one of the senior guard's two assists on the night.


Spencer's night was just beginning, as he would reel off 12 points by half.


"At first we started out slow," he said. "At first I was the main scorer along with Tasmin (Mitchell). I took my first shots, and it felt good. I took another one, and it started feeling better. After that I started picking up the slack."


The Tigers and Cougars went on to throw punches throughout the half, seeing the teams head to the locker room with the Bayou Bengals ahead 25-23.


The second half remained back and forth until Baynes knocked down a two point jumper with 13:52 left to play, giving WSU the 36-35 lead.


Klay Thompson and Taylor Rochestie helped Baynes put together a 20-7 run to turn a six-point deficit to a 47-40 lead for the Cougars with 9:14 to go.


Yet, Johnson and his Tigers responded in a big way, turning the Tide on the visiting Cougars and reeling off a 13-3 run of their own, taking the lead back on Thornton's three with 5:43 left.


Rochestie, who reeled off fourteen points to lead the way for WSU, was already on the mind of the Tiger's head signal caller long before the teams tipped on Saturday.


"I had concerns with Rochestie for all the right reasons," Johnson said. "I knew he was going to extend Bo. Chris Bass is so enthusiastic and sometimes he gets so emotional, he doesn't play within himself defensively. I told him, you have to guard the three-point line and don't get overextended. Keep him in front of you."


Of course, Johnson's senior guard provides a level of leadership that allows the first-year head coach to sit on the bench with an enjoyable level of comfort.


"We start running plays and Chris wanted to pick [Rochestie] up full court," Johnson said. "I said, ‘No. No. No.' That's easier for me to say from the bench, but when you have a guy like Garrett out there who's been there and says, ‘Ok. Slow down and concentrate on what you're doing.'


"That's huge, but then again, that's what you want from you leader, that is what you expect from your leader and what we get from him."


While LSU was caught off guard when the competition level was raised in their game against Texas A&M, the Tigers looked ready for what the visiting Cougars had in store.


"We prepared for it every day," Spencer said. "The games are getting tougher and tougher. Coach told us this was going to be one of the best teams we played. Give credit to Washington State. They were pretty good. I feel that we were ready for the game."


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