Alabama, riding a five game winning streak, including a big win over Kentucky on Saturday, came to Baton Rouge to battle the LSU Tigers on Tuesday night. The Tide fought valiantly but fell by a 88-79 score. Bama closed within four points in the last three minutes, but could not get over the hump. LSU extended the lead at the foul line at the end of the game.
Coach Avery Johnson sent out a starting five of Donta Hall, Herbert Jones, Dazon Ingram, Kira Lewis, and Tevin Mack for the second straight game. John Petty replaced Ingram within the first two minutes. Alabama and LSU traded baskets early, and the Tide held a 17-16 lead with 8:47 left in the first stanza. Sadly that was their first and only lead of the night.
LSU had a late flurry of three pointers, hitting 8-10 in the first half, including two that were banked in and several by their big guys. The deluge of long range shots pushed the Tigers to a 43-28 half time lead. The Tide was 11-28 (39%) at the break, including 2-9 (22%) from deep and 4-6 from the free throw line. LSU blistered the nets to the tune of 15-28 (54%), including the 80% three point shooting and 5-6 from the free throw line.
The Tigers systematically extended the lead through the early parts of the second half. Things started looking so bleak for the Tide that Johnson eventually summoned Daniel Giddens from his month long hiatus and inserted him in the game for the first time in over a month. Giddens quickly had a dunk and two short baskets. LSU stretched the lead to 18 points before Bama woke up and started cutting into the lead. Jones, Petty, and Alex Reese led the charge, with help from Lewis. With a chance to cut the lead to five with seven minutes left , Petty had two good looks down low, but could not get them to fall. At the 2:20 second mark the Tide had the lead down to 79-75, mostly from the free throw line.
LSU missed two free throws with 1:19 left, but the Tide failed to block out and the shooter dunked home his miss to basically to put the game away. Bama had to foul in the last minute and the Tigers made their freebies to get to the final 88-79 score.
Alabama improved in the second half to 14-34 (41%) from the field with 5-15 (33%) from deep and a sterling 18-20 from the line. LSU cooled off to 13-29 (45%) and 2-5 from three point range and 17-21 from the free throw line. For the game Bama finished 25-62 (40%) and 7-24 (30%) from behind the arc. The bright spot was an outstanding 22-26 (85%) from the free throw line. LSU finish 28-57 for 49% and 10-15 for 67% from deep and 22-27 for 82% from the free throw line.
Once again Bama won the battle of the boards, but only by one, at 36-35. The Tide had 14 assists, but 15 turnovers, while the Tigers had 15 assists and 16 turnovers.
Individually Lewis led the team with 15 points, despite shooting 3-11 from the field but 8-8 from the free throw line. Reese continued his impressive play (when he gets a chance) by scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds in 18 minutes of action. Jones had his second consecutive game of stuffing the stat sheet with 10 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Petty led the team in rebounds with eight and added nine points in 30 minutes off the bench. Riley Norris played 20 tough minutes and added eight points and three rebounds, before fouling out. Hall broke a three game streak of double-doubles scoring only seven points and grabbing six rebounds.
LSU is a young, extremely talented team, that relies on five freshman and a couple of sophomores. Kavell Bigby-Williams, a transfer from Oregon, was the big difference with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocked shots. Bigby-Williams came in averaging 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Tremont Waters picked up from his terrific freshman season by scoring 19 points with seven assists and four rebounds. Ja’Vonte Smart and Darius Days also scored in double digits.
The fact that the Tide fought back from a 19 point deficit to cut the lead to four late in the game speaks well of the fight that the team brings. It would have been easy to throw in the towel in a road game in a raucous environment, but to the teams credit they did not. The puzzling substitution pattern of coach Johnson appeared again, with some head scratching lineups on the floor at time. In crunch time he shortened the rotation. Ingram, who has been playing big minutes, was limited to 12 in the game, Mack, who has found his shooting eye in the last few games, played 19 minutes. Giddens was on the floor for 10 minutes and played like a player that could help, scoring six points.
Bama is going to have to hold court at home and figure out how to steal a few road games to reach their goal of returning to the NCAA tournament. In a very tough SEC that will be a tall order, but there have been glimpses of the potential to do so. The Tide returns home on Saturday to host Texas A@M at 2:30 CT at Coleman Coliseum. The game will be shown on the SEC Network.
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