LSU men fall to Alabama, 60-57

LSU coach Johnny Jones reacts to a foul by his team during the second half of their NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. LSU won 69-68. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) Show caption
LSU coach Johnny Jones reacts to a foul by his team during the second half of their NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. LSU won 69-68. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Crimson Tide holds off LSU, 60-57

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Silence enveloped the crowd at Coleman Coliseum seconds before Trevor Lacey lofted his second free-throw on its arc toward the rim.

But Alabama men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant slipped in a last snippet of advice with a little more than a minute left and the Crimson Tide holding a one-point lead against a resurgent LSU.

“Be solid,” Grant chirped from the coaches’ box.

Lacey heeded the directive, along with the rest of the Crimson Tide in a 60-57 victory Saturday, staving off a frantic Tigers rally from a nine-point deficit and halting the Tigers’ three-game winning streak.

“We finished the game strong and gave ourselves opportunities to win,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “Unfortunately, a couple shots didn’t go down and were just weren’t tough enough to finish a physical basketball game.”

Yet the 13,511 packed into the stands couldn’t exhale until guard Anthony Hickey’s desperation heave from past half-court heave thumped off the backboard.

The Crimson Tide (15-8, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) aided Hickey’s bid after Andrew Steele’s cross-court outlet pass to Rodney Cooper on a press break sailed into the first row of seats.

“We survived,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “Fortunately, we were able to come up with a couple of stops on a couple of possessions and survive.”

Again, LSU (13-8, 4-6) fell into the same road SEC road rhythm in games against Auburn and Mississippi State: Slog through prolonged shooting slumps, fall behind and scramble in the waning minutes.

Trailing 54-45, Hickey pushed the ball up court and down the lane before pitching out to guard Andre Stringer in the right corner for a 3-pointer to pare the gap to five points.

At the other end, Steele clanked a quick 3-pointer, lofted up only nine seconds into the possession, which hit off the back rim and spurred an LSU transition chance and lay-up by Shavon Coleman to coax LSU within four points.

“We know we’ve got to play until there’s zeroes on the clock,” said Coleman, who scored 11 points on 3 of 6 shooting. “We’ve got to fight and battle until there’s no more time left.”

Again the Tide struggled to get points out of a possession, with Lacey bricking a 3-pointer and Steele unable to get a tip-in a the front of the rim.

And Johnny O’Bryant, who scored a career-high 22 points on 9 of 17 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, notched his lone points down the stretch when he sank a pair of free throws to narrow the margin to 54-52 and 2:32 left to play.

But it was Coleman with a chance to tie it for LSU but only split a pair of free throws with 1:57 left to slice the gap to a lone point — the closest it had been since a Hickey steal and layup had LSU down 31-29 with just more than 14 minutes left.

Noble as the rally might have been, LSU again bound its own hands in the first half by shooting just 30.8 percent and squandering possessions with nine turnovers.

The Tide clamped down on Hickey — who was held scoreless until six minutes into the second half — and the rest of the Tigers backcourt, limiting them to 2 of 10 shooting before the break.

“They had a great press up top,” Hickey said. ‘But it’s on our part missing open shots we should have made. I’ll give him credit on the defensive end.”

Behind 18-15, guard Malik Morgan made a pair of free-throws with 4:57 remaining until halftime — the Tigers’ lone points over the next 3:33 as Alabama expanded the lead.

Over that stretch, LSU missed three shots but committed three of its nine first-half turnovers during the middle of the Tide’s closing 14-4 run over five minutes on their way to a 27-21 halftime lead.

Forward Nick Jacobs paced Alabama, which shot just 35.2 percent, with 15 points off the bench on 4 of 7 shooting and guard Trevor Releford added 12.

Late in the second half and down 56-53, LSU’s next three possessions netted a turnover and off-target 3-pointers from Stringer and Hickey, while Alabama forward Nick Jacobs’ free throws at 45 seconds extend the margin to five.

An O’Bryant dunk with 21 seconds to go cut the lead to three, and Hickey raced up the floor 12 seconds later for a high-banking floater off the glass to put LSU within 59-57.

Levi Randolph missed the second of two free throws with eight seconds left, giving LSU a last look at drawing even. Pulling up at the top of the arc, though, Stringer’s bid to tie hit short on the front of the rim, and went out of bounds off LSU.

“He had a good look,” Jones said. “That’s what we’re looking for right there.”