No throng of bodies spilled from the student section onto the floor in the aftermath of LSU toppling No. 17 Missouri.
No, the mass waited for the Tigers to meet them along the baseline, where outstretched palms were met with high-fives, and guard Anthony Hickey sat perched on shoulders.
“We wanted to give them something great to come back for every time,” said Hickey, who paced LSU with 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting.
Consider it a sign of restraint after in a 73-70 win Wednesday that was as much a reprieve as was an upset in front of a crowd of 8,804 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
After building a 16-point lead, LSU (11-7, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) fended off five surges by Missouri (15-5, 4-3), securing a win when Shavon Coleman snared Phil Pressey’s off-target 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds left to play in the game.
“We’ve been in a lot of tight games this year and we were able to put things together to pull this one out,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said.
Not without Mizzou slicing the LSU lead to a lone bucket three times in the final minute, including 72-70 after Pressey, who scored a game-high 25 points, drove the length of the floor for a lay-up with 14.6 seconds remaining.
Yet in a season where LSU has grappled with late-game execution against South Carolina, Auburn, Georgia and Kentucky, Jones’ group found the appropriate amount of mettle down the stretch.
Clinging to a 61-58 lead, guard Andre Stringer buried a 3-pointer on the left wing in transition, while Pressey sailed in on a contest and knocked him to the floor and set-up a four-point play with 3:03 left to play.
“Hickey drove down, and their player was taking the lane away,” said Stringer, who had 18 points and was 4-of-5 of 3-pointers. “I just stepped behind the 3-point line, and I saw Pressey come to me, so I just followed through.”
Again, Missouri, which trailed by as much as 35-19 in the first half, mustered a push.
Trailing 65-60, Missouri guard Jabari Brown, who scored 19 points, knocked down a 3-pointer in the left corner on a baseline feed from Pressey to trim the deficit a bucket.
But MU, which shot just 37.7 percent, did the bulk of its catching-up over a 3:29-span early in the second half, reeling off a 12-0 run to close to 46-42 on a pair of Brown free throws.
The surge was helmed by Pressey, who scored eight-consecutive points starting with back-to-back baskets and a layup at 15:56 after Negus Webster-Chan knocked the ball away from Hickey to Pressey to cut the lead to 46-36.
“You know a player like that understands the game may be slipping away from them, and he took over. He was that energizer that they needed.”
Not to be outdone, Hickey mustered his own reply out an LSU timeout.
“We were able to settle down a little bit and understand how we got that lead,” Jones said. “Remind our guys that they were going to make their run, it happened and now it’s time for us to win the next four minutes.”
Hickey knocked down a jumper at the top of the key, and followed it up with a 3-pointer after scooping up a loose ball on the left wing to stretch it back to 51-42 at 12:51 to go.
Missouri’s rally was juxtaposed to another slow start on the road in the SEC, allowing LSU to build a 17-6 lead over 4:45 behind and 11-0 run capped by a Hickey floater with 17:27 left in the first half.
A minute later, guard Malik Morgan converted a lay-up off a steal to initiate another 8-2 LSU run, extending the lead 25-12 with nine minutes until the break, when they led 39-26.
It mirrored sluggish openings in routs in recent at Ole Miss and Florida, and forward Tony Criswell’s putback at 12:49 only briefly slowed LSU.
“I don’t know, but we have to figure it out,” said MU coach Frank Haith, whose team shot 26.9 percent in the first half. “We have no toughness in the first half. It’s disappointing. It’s extremely disappointing.”
And they put the onus on Pressey and Brown to carry the Missouri offense, which saw its interior duo of senior forwards Alex Oriahki and Laurence Bowers stymied.
Bowers, returning from a five-game absence with a sprained medial collateral ligament, finished with 10 points and rebounds. Oriahki scored only a point on a free throw and had three rebounds in 16 minutes because of foul trouble.
Pressey scored 16 points in the second half, when he kicked the ball out to Earnest Ross in the right corner for a 3-pointer to pare the deficit to 68-66 with 33 seconds to play.
Yet the savvy play followed a possession after he pulled up for a quick 3-pointer and MU trailing 66-63 only seven seconds into the shot clock and with 49 seconds remaining. It missed off the front of the rim, and Stringer came down with the rebound, was fouled by Brown, and hit two free throws for a five-point lead.
“We needed to keep driving the ball,” Haith said. “We said that in timeouts, and we settled for some really quick shots, not just that play. ... We’re trying to win the game. You can’t make those kind of plays.”
Clinging to a 68-66 lead, LSU pushed it back to a two possession game when Charles Carmouche lofted a perfect inbounds pass to O’Bryant, who had leaked up the floor after setting a screen to free Stringer. Alone in the open floor, O’Bryant drove for a lay-up and foul by Webster-Chan, but couldn’t convert a free-throw.
“He did an excellent job looking up the floor because Johnny is supposed to screen and get out,” Jones said. ‘We’re fortunate they didn’t go with (Stringer), and (O’Bryant) did a good job of finishing.”
It’s an assessment that hasn’t always applied after four-consecutive losses to open the SEC docket, and left O’Bryant, Hickey and Stringer chuckling when asked about being the season being cast off already.
“There were a lot people that count us out and don’t think we’re going to do much in this league,” Stringer said. “The most important thing is what’s in that locker room and who’s out on the floor.”
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