The Tigers jumped out to a big early lead and were able to withstand a second half Razorback push for a 79-69 win at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“With all the festivities going on this weekend, I thought we did a really good job of finding a way to win the basketball game,” said LSU head coach Trent Johnson. “Emotionally, our execution was pretty good. My concern going in, and I expressed this to them going into the game, was that we were going to have to settle down and play. We feel very fortunate we won.”
Marcus Thornton and Chris Johnson got the Tigers started offensively. The two seniors combined to score the team’s first five field goals to give the Tigers an early 14-6 lead. LSU’s swarming defense and some hot shooting by Bo Spencer helped increase the lead to 41-21 by halftime.
“I thought ball movement was critical,” Johnson said of LSU’s hot start. “I thought we were really intense and ready to go.”
“You have to give credit to LSU,” said Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey. “I thought they were certainly much better than us in the first half tonight. We didn’t play very well and that’s a credit to them.”
For the second consecutive game, the second half did not go as smoothly for the Tigers as they once again hit a rough patch, allowing the Razorbacks to climb back into the game. LSU went nearly four minutes without a field goal until the 3:31 mark when Tasmin Mitchell scored on a putback of a missed three pointer by Garret Temple.
“We feel very fortunate we won,” said Johnson. “We didn’t handle the pressure well at times, but I want to tip my hat to them as opposed to what we didn’t do. We found a way to win and that’s the most important thing.”
During the Tigers’ drought, Arkansas was able to get the lead down to five on a layup by Courtney Fortson with 4:19 left in the game, cutting the score to 64-59. However, the Tigers got a big three from Mitchell to go with his putback to spark a 9-0 run and put the game out of reach at 73-59 with 1:25 left to play.
LSU was perfect from the free throw line on six attempts in the final minute of the game to hold off Arkansas’ last ditch effort for the final score.
“Our attitude was better in the second half and we played better,” Pelphrey said. “That’s an attitude of just being tougher and wanting it more. That attitude was lacking in the first half.”
“They played 40 minutes hard and we only played 20 minutes hard,” added Fortson. “The results show on the scoreboard. The entire game LSU outplayed us.”
Arkansas (13-6, 1-5) was led tonight by Michael Washington’s 24 points while Fortson added 17 points.
LSU’s win tonight, combined with Mississippi State’s loss at home to Ole Miss means the Tigers are now in sole possession of first place in the SEC west with a 5-1 conference record and 17-4 overall mark. They will put that spot on the line Wednesday night at Georgia.
Tale of Two Halves
LSU shot 14-for-33 in the first half for 42.4 percent, but managed only 10-for-29 in the second half for 34.5 percent.
Arkansas, on the other hand, was 8-of-30 in the first half for 26.7 percent, but the Razorbacks caught fire in the second half, hitting 20-of-35 for 57.1 percent.
LSU outrebounded Arkansas 26-13 in the first half, but the Hogs matched the Tigers in the final 20 minutes with each team getting 19 boards.
Big Night for Spencer
Sophomore point guard Bo Spencer had a big night for the Tigers, finishing as the team’s leading scorer with 21 points. He was 6-of-10 from the field and 5-of-6 from beyond the arc, including 3-for-3 in the first half. He also added four rebounds and three assists, along with going perfect from the free throw line on four tries.
“I had wide open shots and Coach Johnson gave me the confidence to take the shots,” Spencer said. “I’m always working on my jump shots. They kept leaving me open, so I kept knocking them down.”
“Any guy on this basketball team that can shoot the ball well and shoot within the frame of what we are doing, I don’t say much to him,” added Johnson. “There are times when Bo, much like Marcus, will take a bad shot or two and then knock down a couple. They need to enjoy some part of this game.”
Another Double-Double for Johnson
Senior center Chris Johnson posted his second consecutive double–double as he finished the game 18 points and 11 rebounds. He also added seven blocks.
His 11 rebounds were more than double that of Arkansas’ Michael Washington, who managed just five boards the whole game. Washington entered tonight’s game as the leading rebounder in the SEC.