SEC Champs

Every coach wants to win a conference championship in his first season but few accomplish that feat. Trent Johnson, however, is one of those few as LSU won its 13th straight conference game and clinched the Southeastern Conference regular season title with a 73-70 win over Kentucky on Saturday.


Marcus Thornton led LSU with 23 points and nine rebounds and Bo Spencer added 16 points as the Tigers (25-4, 13-1) overcame a 10-point second half deficit to win at Rupp Arena for the first time in 20 years.


Patrick Patterson had 28 points and nine rebounds and Jodie Meeks scored 24 points for Kentucky (19-10, 8-6), but the SEC's leading scorer badly missed a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds to go as the Wildcats lost their second straight.


Thornton secured the inbounds pass following Meeks' miss and ran out the clock, throwing the ball in the air as the buzzer sounded as the Tigers celebrated.


“It was a hard fought win for us. I think we played really well,” LSU head coach Trent Johnson said. “When we were down 10, I thought we were trying to do too much individually. We really needed to get back to our offense as a team and we did that. That is what happens when you have a group of guys that wants to win very badly.”


Playing with a weakened center in Chris Johnson who was suffering with the flu and only able to go 14 minutes, the Tigers survived a quick 8-3 start to tie the game at 8-8 and take a 12-8 lead seven minutes deep into the game.


Both defenses were all over the league’s top two scorers, Meeks and Thornton, in the opening half and neither was able to get off to much of a start. Garrett Temple was showing his defensive ability against Meeks, aided at times by Terry Martin and even Thornton. But Thornton was being held in check by the Kentucky defense as at the half, Meeks had just nine points and Thornton four.


But for LSU Mitchell was hitting early, hitting 6-of-9 field goal attempts and Spencer was hitting three long-distance Thornton-like threes to help LSU keep control of the first half, opening up as much as a 24-12 advantage before going to the dressing room at the half to the disgust of the crowd of over 24,000, 38-26.


Kentucky came out in the second half, dumping the ball down low to Patterson and that allowed Kentucky to eventually tie the game at 40-40 at the 15:12 mark. That then allowed Meeks some freedom to get loose and while Thornton was trying to keep pace as Kentucky tried to move its defense pressure over to Mitchell, Kentucky got a run going and with Meeks, Patterson, Darius Miller and Perry Stevenson scoring, the Wildcats were up twice by 10 at 54-44 and then 56-46 on a Patterson dunk at the 9:51 mark.


But Thornton took over getting a trey and assisting a Martin layup to cut it to five, 56-51. After a Meeks bucket, a bucket and foul by Thornton cut the game to four at 58-54 and after a Kentucky miss, Thornton scored again to make it 58-56 at the 7:38 mark. LSU held its ground, getting the lead back briefly at the 2:20 mark, 63-62, on a layup by Spencer.


Meeks made two free throws to put Kentucky up 64-63 18 seconds later before Mitchell missed a jumper, but Thornton went over the big guys and threw the ball back up and in to give LSU a 65-64 advantage at the 1:49 mark. With an ensuring free throw the LSU lead was two. Patterson would tie the game at 66 with a layup but Spencer nailed his fourth three from deep to give LSU a 69-66 lead with 1:19 to play and Thornton again had the assist.


Meeks, who was 1-of-9 from behind the arc, missed a three and LSU fouled Thornton who made one free throw for a 70-66 lead with 42 seconds left. On the defensive end, Kevin Galloway was fouled and made one free throw, but Patterson got the rebound and passed it out to Miller who hit a three to tie the game at 70-70 with 27 seconds left.


That set the scene for the final possession when Mitchell popped open up top for the game winner.


“I think as a coach, I have to let those guys go out there and just play,” Trent Johnson said of Mitchell and Thornton. “There were times they tried to force the ball but this afternoon those guys just played smart basketball. We have gotten so much better defensively. I have said all year long that we have a much better chance at competing when we take care of the ball.”


LSU plays Vanderbilt in the final home game as LSU tries to go for the third perfect home record in league play in the last five years. Game time is 7 p.m. with the senior night ceremony honoring LSU’s five seniors set for 6:45 p.m.

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