Alabama answers LSU’s frantic rally

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Shavon Coleman slumped against the brick wall outside the LSU locker room, too tired to stand.

Ten minutes earlier, LSU trudged off the floor after Anthony Hickey’s floater in the waning seconds was swatted away to seal Alabama’s 82-80 victory Saturday night at Coleman Coliseum.

That LSU’s sinewy senior forward could bury his head in his jersey in oh-so-close frustration was a minor miracle.

Trailing by 19 points in the second half, LSU (12-6, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) dragged itself back from the abyss with waves of pressure to take two late leads before Alabama forward Shannon Hale hit a 3-pointer to put the Crimson Tide (9-10, 3-3) ahead for good in the final minute.

“They laid it all out there on the line,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said, “and gave us an opportunity to win that basketball game.”

Nixed is the two-game winning streak LSU put together at home. And, for the second time in two weeks, the Tigers watched a painful and potentially essential road win elude their grasp.

In the bowels of Coleman Coliseum, a drained Jones scoured for a silver lining.

“A few weeks back, you put yourself in this situation, it may not have been this close,” Jones said.

LSU seemed poised to snatch a victory after it seemed destined for a drubbing when Hickey drilled a 3-pointer in front of the LSU bench for a 75-74 lead with about 2 minutes left.

Alabama’s Rodney Cooper, who had 19 points and six rebounds, corralled a missed Hale 3-pointer for a putback and a one-point lead.

At the other end, Johnny O’Bryant III, who scored a team-high 18 points, flipped in a baby hook over Hale for the Tigers’ final lead at 77-76 with 1:10 to go. But the Tigers forward, who battled foul trouble in the first half and scored 16 after halftime, made a pivotal mistake on the other end.

Trying to keep Bama guard Trevor Releford from slashing toward the rim, O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey lost Hale after he slipped a screen to the top of the arc. Releford, who scored a game-high 21 points, simply pitched it back to the big man.

Hale quietly rose on his toes, barely leaving the hardwood, to splash through a 3-pointer with 44.5 seconds showing to put his team ahead 79-77.

“We didn’t communicate,” O’Bryant said. “Me and Jordan left him open for the 3, and he drained it. That really hurt us.”

Bama wasn’t content to sap the remaining drama.

Algie Key barreled into Andre Stringer, who scored 12 points, when the LSU guard hoisted a 3-pointer with 6.7 seconds left. He sank all three free throws to cut Bama’s lead to 81-80.

Next, Cooper split a pair at the other end, letting Hickey race the length of the floor in the final 5.5 seconds for a floater that was rudely rejected.

LSU seemingly checked off every box in the first half to be on the wrong end of a rout.

After LSU jumped to a quick seven-point lead, Bama tore off a 22-2 run over nearly nine minutes.

Keyed by Releford, who scored 10 of his 17 first-half points during the burst, the Tide took a 22-9 lead with 9:20 until half. A minute later, O’Bryant picked up his third foul and plodded to the bench, a bottoming-out for the junior and Mickey in a half when they combined for nine points on 4-of-11 shooting.

In between, the Tide, which shot 51.9 percent, attacked the paint at will for an 18-6 edge and at one point had shot 12 free throws to LSU’s zero. The Tigers, who rebounded to shoot 46.8 percent, missed nine of 10 shots during Bama’s run but managed to get the margin back to 36-23 at halftime.

“The only thing you’ve got to tell the guys is that, if we’re playing hard and getting after it, we never put ourselves in this position,” Jones said. “But you also applaud them and tell them how well they played in this type of environment.”

Especially after Hale and Cooper, who shot a combined 30.6 percent behind the arc, combined to hit three 3s out of the locker room to spur Bama to a 47-38 lead with 17:02 to go.

Over the next seven minutes, LSU snipped the lead to 56-45 and waited until the 11:40 mark to roll out its press, which netted three steals in the next three minutes. The final one was a Coleman strip and score of Releford to draw the Tigers within 58-56 with 8:40 left.

Again, the press reaped rewards when Cooper was stripped on a drive to the rim that led to a run-out for Coleman. He missed at the rim, but Tim Quarterman followed up with a tip-in to tie it at 64 with roughly seven minutes left.

“We wanted to make sure we extended our press, but we didn’t want to go to it too early,” Jones said.

Finally, Stringer got a tip-in, again on a missed layup off one of LSU’s eight steals, to put the Tigers ahead 69-68. A trip later, O’Bryant mashed down a dunk for a three-point lead with 4:55 showing.

“We’re a team that’s always fighting, always trying to scratch and claw,” O’Bryant said. “We’ve been in this position before and fought back, but we just didn’t come back in time.”

Hale canned a 3-pointer on a fast break off the left wing to pull Bama even, followed by he and Randolph sinking three foul shots over the next minute for a 74-72 lead.

Next came Hickey’s 3-pointer, the final tired swing LSU could muster.

With No. 14 Kentucky arriving Tuesday, a game LSU desperately needs to boost its postseason credentials, Jones’ crew has to quickly exorcise its frustration.

“It’s still a long SEC season,” O’Bryant said. “We’ve got a tough Kentucky team coming. We’ve just got to get over this and turn our attention to that.”