Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Trailing by double figures with about 16 minutes to play Thursday night, LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones put the Tigers into a full-court press, hoping they could speed up Seton Hall, cause some chaos and give themselves a shot at a comeback.
LSU, which held big leads down the stretch in its first four games, had not run a press this season nor spent much time on it in practice.
“I guess that’s just something coach Jones had kept in his back pocket,” LSU point guard Anthony Hickey said.
The press worked just as Jones envisioned, pumping life into the Tigers — and a boisterous home crowd — as LSU came all the way back from 16 points down with 17:16 left to pull off a 72-67 victory.
“I thought it created some energy not only in our team, but I thought our fans really were able to get engaged and get in the game as well,” Jones said of the press. “I thought that really spurred us on.”
The Tigers improved to 5-0 with the win, continuing the program’s best start since it finished 27-8 in 2008-09.
The first meeting between LSU and Seton Hall (5-2) was part of the annual SEC-Big East Challenge. For the first game of the season pitting the Tigers against a BCS opponent, an announced crowd of 7,295 turned out at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and got the kind of show Jones promised when introduced as his alma mater’s coach seven months ago.
The night began with Andre Del Piero receiving a Shaq-like ovation as the 7-foot-3 senior was introduced as a starter for the first time in his three-year career. Del Piero left behind a scholarship playing tuba in the LSU band to join the basketball team as a walk-on two seasons ago. He improved enough to earn more significant action in recent games.
“He earned the right to be out there,” Jones said.
The buzz was short-lived as the fan favorite saw only eight minutes of action — all in the first half. But there was plenty of excitement late to keep the crowd entertained.
LSU got back in the game by pressuring Seton Hall into turnovers and converting them into transition opportunities on the other end. The Tigers had 16 steals and forced 26 turnovers, scoring 26 points off them.
Their full-court press in the second half spearheaded a frantic rally that saw LSU go up 60-58 with 6:06 left after leading only once — 1-0 — to that point. Seton Hall pulled back ahead 64-63 on a pair of 3-pointers by Aaron Cosby and Fuquan Edwin, but LSU recaptured the lead on Shavon Coleman’s inside basket with 2:15 to go.
LSU made seven of eight free throws in the final two minutes, negating another rough night at the line; the Tigers started 11-for-19 there. Seton Hall, with a decided size advantage, went 24-of-49 (49.0 percent) from the field and 10-of-21 (47.6 percent) from 3-point range.
The Pirates led 35-27 at halftime, then grew the advantage to 41-27 when Brian Oliver and Cosby opened the second half with back-to-back 3-pointers. Then, finally, it reached 46-30 on a Eugene Teague layup with 17:16 left.
But the Tigers finished with 37 rebounds — two more than their larger foe.
“To be honest with you, we lost our nerve a little bit,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said.
Coleman led LSU with 18 points, followed by Johnny O’Bryant with 13 and Andre Stringer and Hickey with 10 apiece. O’Bryant also had 11 rebounds.
Brandon Mobley led Seton Hall with 17 points.
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