Tigers take bite out of Gators

In front of a packed and raucous crowd of 13,345 fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, LSU extended its SEC winning streak to 12 games Tuesday night as it beat the SEC East leading Florida Gators, 81-75.


With tonight’s win, 18th-ranked LSU clinched at least a share of the SEC regular season title and won the West outright. Trent Johnson and the Tigers were elated with the victory but they all say there is still work to be done as a win this Saturday in Lexington against Kentucky will give them sole possession of the SEC title.


“We won the west outright,” Temple said. “We haven’t won anything else yet. We’re trying to win the whole thing by ourselves. We’re going to Lexington to play in front of a hostile crowd, and Kentucky is Kentucky. But we’re trying to win the SEC outright. Until we win that game, we won’t consider ourselves SEC champions.”


The Tigers were led once again by Marcus Thornton, who finished the game with 32 points. But it was an unexpected effort from Garrett Temple that put the Tigers (24-4, 12-1) over the top, as he poured in a career-high 21 points on 7 of 10 shooting. Temple also hit three of his four attempts from beyond the arc.


“Garrett stepped up in a huge way and made some key offensive plays,” said LSU head coach Trent Johnson. “He was very aggressive. Garrett does what he has to do to win.”


“Coming in tonight we knew there would be a lot of hoopla because of the ESPN game,” Temple added. “We tried to block all that out and play LSU basketball. Bo made some big plays, Marcus made some big plays, and I was able to knock down some shots to get the win.”


Temple scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half. He also picked up his fourth foul with 7:48 remaining in the contest and the Tigers up 67-58, but he remained in the game to guard Florida’s Nick Calathes. Temple’s reputation as a lock down defender took hold again as he held the Gators’ star player to zero points on 0 for 4 shooting and no assists from that point forward.


Temple said there was never any discussion of him coming out of the game when he picked up that fourth foul.


“Coach Johnson didn’t have any questions about me coming out,” Temple said. “He just said keep playing. Terry will be ready, but you keep playing. I was happy and surprised, and I was able to not get another foul.”


Aside from Temple’s career night, the Tigers got another huge effort from Thornton. The senior guard put on a shooting display early on as he connected on 5 of 6 attempts from beyond the arc for 15 first half points. He finished the game 6 of 11 on threes and 8 of 15 overall for 32 points.


“I wasn’t really surprised with what Thornton was able to do,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan. “He really made some difficult shots. I thought he made some great shots.”


“It really helped in the first half that Marcus made some deep threes,” added Johnson. “I’ve gotten spoiled because Marcus can flat out play. If there is a better two guard in the country other than that guy in Kentucky, I’d like to see him.”


While Thornton was lighting it up from 3-point range in the first half, he found other ways to contribute in the second half. During a second half drought that saw LSU not make a field goal from the 9:09 mark to the 3:54 mark, Thornton knocked down four big free throws to help the Tigers maintain their lead. He was 10 for 10 from the free throw line in the final 8 minutes. And Chris Johnson’s dunk to break the drought came on a beautiful no look assist from Thornton.


Thornton also came up big on the defensive end of the court as he pulled down three rebounds in the last four minutes and came out of nowhere to block an open layup attempt by Calathes.


The Tigers also got big contributions from Tasmin Mitchell, who scored 12 points to go with eight rebounds, and Bo Spencer, who put up nine points, grabbed six rebounds, and dished out nine assists.


Florida (21-7, 8-5) got double digit point efforts from Walter Hodge (16), Alex Tyrus (15), Chandler Parsons (12), and Calathes (12).


The Tigers return to action on Saturday afternoon against the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kent. The game is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. CST and will be televised by CBS.


Making the Easy Ones


Marcus Thornton finished the game 10 for 11 from the free throw line, and the Tigers as a team were 18 of 21.


That’s a big improvement from the Arkansas game when Thornton hit 6 of 9 and the Tigers as a team were 12 of 24 from the foul line. Free throws have been huge for LSU over the last two games as Thornton has connected on 22 of 24 and the Tigers have nailed 39 of 43 from the charity stripe.

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