LSU ends road skid, beat Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nobody watching LSU’s scrap against Vanderbilt will brag about it being easy on the eyes.

What’s utterly certain is the Tigers could care less after walking off the floor with a 57-51 victory Thursday against the Commodores.

Not after tumbling into a 16-point hole against the Commodores in the first half.

Forget pulling within a two points four times in the second half but unable to surge ahead.

Or those nine empty trips, possessions squandered where the Tigers (18-11, 9-8 Southeastern Conference) could have tied or taken the lead.

Despite going 36 minutes between leads, swingman Shavon Coleman calmly swished a pair of free throws with roughly three minutes left to put the Tigers ahead, ending a seven-game road losing skid in front of 9,968 at Memorial Gymnasium.

“It was crunch time,” Coleman said. “It needed to happen for us.”

Snatching the prize extracted every ounce of effort to subdue the Commodores (15-14, 7-10), too.

“You’re trying to position yourself,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “You want to be executing at your highest level and make plays down the stretch, and we were able to do that.”

LSU also had to shove aside its own worst tendencies.

Trailing by eight points at halftime, the Tigers used less than four minutes to slice the lead down to 37-35 on two free throws from Coleman with 14:54 left.

What came next was a nearly four-minute scoreless gulf of time — a stretch where LSU and Vandy clanked all nine of the shots it put up.

Until Shelby Moats swished a 3-pointer to push the lead back out to five.

So set in a familiar pattern.

LSU forward Jarell Martin darted by Moats down the right side of the lane for a lay-up to draw the Tigers within 43-41 with 7:48 left. Yet LSU frittered away its next two possessions with turnovers.

Rod Odom then fended off the Tigers’ advance with a 3-pointer from the left wing with roughly six minutes to go.

Andre Stringer, who had 11 points and sank 8 of 8 free throws, knocked down a pair to pull within 46-45. Vandy guard Kyle Fuller replied with a lay-up on the other end at the 5:25 mark.

Slowly, Thursday began to take the eerie form of missed chances away from Baton Rouge at Ole Miss, Alabama and Kentucky — all losses where the Tigers failed to execute in the waning stretches.

“I know everybody felt it,” Stringer said. “I was thinking it as well. All of the games we’ve lost have gone back to that.”

It certainly resembled them, too.

Again, a lax start defensively left LSU scrambling while its offense sputtered.

Over a 5:31 scoring drought, Vanderbilt popped of an 11-0 run capped by an Odom jumper on the right win to make it 15-4.

Worse, it was just a preview of more woes for LSU, which shot a season-worst 26.7 percent in the first half and failed to capitalize around the rim with Jones sitting for 13 minutes in foul trouble.

In between an Johnny O’Bryant stickback at 9:20 and a layup at 2:32, Vanderbilt had stretched its lead out to 28-12, largely behind the jump shooting of Odom and Luke Kornet.

“We were just chasing a lot, trying to get back to their shooters,” Stringer said. “They pick and pop very well, and we just didn’t do a good job the first half.”

Just as quickly as LSU’s shooting woes took hold, O’Bryant’s layup kick-started a 12-2 scoring flurry to close the half to help Jones’ group creep back within 32-24 at the break.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, never found its rhythm again.

Grappling with LSU’S press, one that turned eight-second half turnovers into eight points, did enough to get Vandy out of sorts.

The Commodores, who shot 30.5 percent, went just 6 of 29 from the floor in the second half, and clanked 3 of 15 3-pointers — many of which were lofted up early in the shot clock.

“It created some turnover opportunities for us,” Jones said. “They were able to play a little bit faster, take some shots earlier in the clock, and fortunately they didn’t go down.”

No, LSU wasn’t much better.

The Tigers shot just 33.3 percent from the floor, including going just 2 of 15 behind the arc.

Still, they attacked the rim for a 26-16 scoring edge in the lane, and in the process managed to get to the free-throw line, where they knocked down 19 of 24 attempts.

And if O’Bryant was thwarted by the tangled mass of arms raking him in the lane, the junior decided a face-up game honed this summer would carry LSU down the stretch.

Three times in the final five minutes, O’Bryant softly arced in mid-range jumpers, including his 17-footer near the top of the circle over Jones to extend LSU’s lead to 53-49 with1:42 left to play.

“That was big for us to make big plays and hit shots with the game so tight,” said O’Bryant, who was 11-of-18 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free-throw line. “We knew it was up to us to take it because Vandy was playing hard all night.”

Unlike trips to Oxford, Tuscaloosa and Lexington, the Tigers grinded out plenty stops, pulled down enough rebounds and watched enough free throws fall.

Style points?

What are those anyway?

“It’s a win,” Coleman said. “We don’t care. I doesn’t matter how we got it. It’s ours.”