LSU defeats Alabama 68-56 in the SEC tournament

ATLANTA — All season, LSU faced a constant hypothetical scenario.

What if its trio of talented freshmen all clicked in unison?

On Thursday, they provided a sneak peek for the No. 7 seed Tigers in a 68-56 victory against 10th-seeded Alabama in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

After failing to reach double figures this year, freshman point guard Tim Quarterman keyed a decisive first half spurt, while Jarell Martin scored nine of his 10 points in the second half.

Forward Jordan Mickey was dependable in scoring nine points, while Johnny O’Bryant quietly added 11 points and six rebounds.

“It’s around that time,” said Quarterman, who scored nine of a career-high 12 points in the first half. “It’s do or die, and we just wanted to come out play aggressive and make plays for each other.”

Shavon Coleman paced the Tigers with 15 points, knocking down five 3-pointers on a day where the Tigers made a season-high 11 of 22 from long distance to punish the Tide for packing the lane.

On a day when LSU (19-12) could have suffered a mortal blow to its NIT chances, it made it look easy earning a third meeting with No. 2 seed Kentucky in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. CDT Friday.

“It’s definitely going to be a big game,” O’Bryant said when asked if a rematch adds extra intensity since UK escaped with a 77-76 overtime victory on Feb. 22 at Rupp Arena.

Six weeks after having to claw back from 19 points down only to lose by two points at Coleman Coliseum, LSU spent the bulk of the second half keeping the Tide (13-19) at bay.

A bucket from Retin Obasohan with 8:39 left trimmed the Tigers lead down to 55-47, all while LSU was mired in a four minute scoreless stretch.

Yet the Tide could never cut the lead any further, even as LSU put them on the line four times. Yet the Tide clanked four of the five attempts.

The Tigers made the tide pay for treading water, too.

Andre Stringer and Coleman hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 65-50 lead with 4:52 remaining.

The Crimson Tide shot just 36.0 percent, and LSU — the worst team during SEC play defending the 3-point line — only let the Tide go 6 of 21 from long distance.

The Tigers also held Tide leading scorer Trevor Releford in check, allowing him to score just 11 points on 2 of 11 shooting. Forward Shannon Hale also added 11 points, while Levi Randolph chipped in 10 points.

“It’s one of the best games we’ve played in a while defensively,” Stringer said. “We communicated throughout the game. We controlled Releford and we didn’t let their shooters get involved.

For a second half that unfolded on autopilot, it wouldn’t have been devoid of drama without the unlikely breakout of Quarterman.

No one would have tabbed him as the cog to spur LSU to a 35-24 halftime lead.

Before Thursday, the freshman had never scored more than nine points all season "— a mark he cleared in nine minutes off the bench.

“Coach told me to be aggressive when I get in the game and make plays like I’ve been doing in practice,” Quarterman said. “He just told me to translate that to the game.”

The Savannah, Ga., native started by slithering down the right baseline for a layup with 7:28 left in the first half, and two minutes later lofted in a 3-pointer off the left wing to stretch the Tigers lead to 27-21.

“It was just good to see the ball go through the net on that first shot,” Quarterman said.

Next, Quarterman dumped off a feed to a cutting Jordan Mickey for the high post to extend the lead to eight points with roughly three minutes left in the first half.

On the next possession, he decided to cap a 13-0 run when he flew in on the backside to mash down a two-handed dunk off a missed Hickey 3-pointer for a 33-24 lead.

“He was the X-Factor in the game tonight,” Jones said. “He set the tone with the way he played early — hitting threes and finishing with a rebound dunk.”