LSU men fall to Georgia in finale

Advocate staff photo by  April Buffington -- LSU's Jarell Martin gets around Georgia for two during the game on Saturday at LSU.
Advocate staff photo by April Buffington -- LSU's Jarell Martin gets around Georgia for two during the game on Saturday at LSU.

Blood oozed from a cut above LSU guard Anthony Hickey’s eyebrow, but the guard’s head wasn’t down.

The junior said the Tigers can stir up a revival at the Southeastern Conference tournament despite Saturday’s 69-61 loss to Georgia.

“We’re going to put this game behind us,” Hickey said. “It’ll make us more fired up (that) we lost in our home gym, and we can go down there and make some noise.”

Fifteen minutes earlier, though, the players disappeared up the tunnel after providing scant evidence of being able to contend for the title to the 9,208 inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

The Bulldogs (18-12, 12-6) strafed LSU (18-12, 9-9) behind the 3-point arc and clogged the lane to send the Tigers staggering to Atlanta as the No. 7 seed. They finished four spots behind where they were picked in the preseason.

“Everybody goes in there with an opportunity to either win three, four or five games,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “You put yourself in a position for something special there waiting for you. That’s what you play for.”

Yet the Tigers, who snapped a seven-game road losing streak Thursday at Vanderbilt, couldn’t carry their momentum forward after a one-day turnaround.

The SEC’s worst 3-point defense let Georgia, which shot 47.8 percent, knock down 9 of 16 shots they hoisted up beyond the arc — the best an opponent has shot at the PMAC this season.

That was the primer for the Bulldogs early in the second half.

Charles Mann, who had 20 points on just 4-of-11 shooting, swished a 3-pointer at the top of the key for a 38-33 lead with roughly 17 minutes left.

“We did a good job, initially, of getting to their shooters,” LSU guard Andre Stringer said. “They took shots contested, and they hit them.”

LSU swingman Jarell Martin, who had 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting, answered with his own 3 from the left wing, but the Tigers couldn’t muster a reply over two minutes.

Kenny Gaines, who scored 22 points, drilled one of his six 3-pointers on the left wing after Georgia broke the Tigers’ press for a 43-35 lead with 14:43 left to go.

“They made deep shots. I mean, they made some NBA-type 3s,” Jones said. “I thought we did a great job of switching and trying to get a hand up. You have to give them credit for the percentage they shot from back there.”

A pair of buckets from Nemanja Djursic, who pivoted around the SEC’s best shot-swatter in Jordan Mickey, on back-to-back trips polished off a 12-2 run that staked Georgia to a 47-35 lead with roughly 14 minutes remaining.

LSU answered with a 7-2 spurt of its own but could never really breathe full life into a comeback.

Georgia’s ability to hound junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III and Mickey in the lane proved to be the way to keep the Tigers offense whirring back to life.

In the face of near-constant double teams, O’Bryant went just 2-of-8 from the floor — both face-up jumpers in the first half from the right wing — for five points. Mickey was just 3-of-9 for nine points.

And an attack that averages more than 33 points in the lane mustered up just 18, while the Tigers shot only 36.4 percent.

“Just not seeing the whole floor,” O’Bryant said of the issues caused by Georgia’s interior pressure. “I’ve been double-teamed enough to be experienced to handle it, but today just wasn’t my night.”

Normally, O’Bryant is able to fire kickouts to the perimeter to LSU jump shooters. But Georgia sent a guard down to help antagonize the big man while sticking tightly to Stringer on the back side with rotations.

Stringer, who had 22 points in his last regular-season game at the PMAC, knocked down three 3-pointers, but the Tigers as a whole shot just 5-of-23 behind the arc.

“When those guys are getting doubled, it’s hard to get the right reads,” Stringer said. “But it’s more of the guards’ job to get open for those guys. And we had times today where we did that, and we had times where we didn’t.”

Over eight minutes in the first half, LSU cobbled together a 10-3 run, pulling even at 24 on a nifty layup in traffic by Stringer. Two minutes later, O’Bryant splashed down a jumper from the right baseline over Marcus Thornton to give the Tigers a 28-24 edge with 2:39 left in the first half.

Oddly, though, LSU may have squandered a prime chance to blitz the Bulldogs, who committed 13 first-half turnovers.

During its run, the Tigers badgered Georgia into nine turnovers but went 0-of-7 from the floor and got only a pair of Shavon Coleman free throws for their efforts.

“We’d make them turn them ball over, and then we didn’t execute,” said Hickey, who notched four steals. “Empty possessions are what hurt us tonight.”

Georgia didn’t pass on the reprieve, closing on a 6-2 run in the final minute of the first half to lead 30-28 at halftime.

A victory over the Bulldogs might have nudged their spot in the Ratings Percentage Index into the upper 50s — relatively safe territory for the program to land in the 32-team NIT field. Now LSU might be in jeopardy if spots begin to fill up.

“You can’t think negative,” O’Bryant said. “We may lose three games in a row, but the next game we think we can win. That’s just how we’re built.”