LSU struggled to hold on to a lead it had built to 14 points with 15 minutes to play as the Cajuns bombed home seven three-pointers in the second half and took the Tigers one-on-one on many other possessions for buckets.
LSU led 72-62 with 3:54 to go after a fast break dunk by Tasmin Mitchell but two free throws by Chris Gradnigo and a three-pointer by Randell Daigle, playing only his second game of the season after breaking his hand in the preseason cut the game to 72-67. Bo Spencer then committed an offensive foul and Daigle hit a jump shot to cut it to 72-69 with 1:58 left.
Chris Johnson hit a put back short shot for LSU to make it 74-69, but Gradnigo hit a trey to make it 74-72 for LSU with 1:13, putting LSU’s now 73-game winning streak against Louisiana schools in serious jeopardy for the second straight game. The Cajuns elected to foul and Mitchell made two free throws to make it 76-72.
Spencer fouled on the other end and Daigle made one free throw to make it 76-73 at the 46 second mark. Mitchell hit another clutch jumper to make it 78-73 with 24 seconds left only to have Daigle come down and hit another trey to cut it to 78-76 with 12 seconds to play.
Thornton hit two clutch free throws with 10 seconds to make it 80-76 and then stepped in front of a pass for a steal and was fouled with three seconds to play. Thornton made the second of two free throws to make it 81-76 and Daigle came down and hit his fifth trey of the game at the buzzer for the final two-point margin.
“(Louisiana-Lafayette was) pretty good and we weren’t” said LSU Coach Trent Johnson. “We managed to find a way to win. There were some disturbing things that went on our there, and it’s not on the players as much as it is on me. One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is you play like you practice, and the game is real fair.
“Obviously, I didn’t push enough of the right buttons over the last two days to make sure they understood the sense of urgency in which they had to come out and defend against this group, who like I said earlier in really talented. The good thing is we found a way to win down the stretch, and I thought Garrett (Temple) and Tasmin (Mitchell) both were pretty good at crucial times late in the second half.”
Mitchell led LSU with a career high 25 points with three assists and six steals, while Spencer had 20 points and four assists. Marcus Thornton had 12 points with his late free throws keeping his double figure scoring streak alive at eight, and Garrett Temple had 10 points and six assists. Chris Johnson had 13 rebounds to lead the Tigers, although LSU was out rebounded for the second straight game, 34-31.
Daigle led Louisiana-Lafayette with 24 points with Chris Gradnigo getting 13, Travis Bureau 13 and Gary La’Ryan 11.
LSU ran its record to 11-1 on the season while Louisiana-Lafayette fell to 4-8.
“I thought we lost our poise,” Johnson said when asked to discuss the “disturbing things” he saw. “I thought we had some careless turnovers, and I thought we had some guys who didn’t play through things, and that’s as much of an elaboration as I’m going to give. The responsibility falls on me, and that’s something we have to get worked out in practice. For us to give up 48 points in the second half on our home floor, that’s not acceptable.”
LSU takes on Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the final home game before a two-game road trip to Utah (Jan. 6) and Alabama (Jan. 11) to open SEC play.