By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
A physical, aggressive Alabama defense stifled LSU’s offense on Saturday night in Baton Rouge.
This time, the story unfolded in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, not Death Valley.
LSU shot just 40 percent from the floor and 26 percent from deep, and Alabama (11-6, 3-2 SEC) dominated the glass to take a 74-66 road win back to Tuscsaloosa.
The Tigers (11-5, 2-2 SEC) got 19 points and 5 assists from Tremont Waters in the loss. Alabama got 15 points and 7 assists from Collin Sexton and 18 points and 10 rebounds from Dazon Ingram, as the Tide won the battle on the boards 40 to 24 and scored 36 points in the paint to LSU’s 24.
“We’ve could’ve been more physical and boxed our man out a little better,” said Duop Reath, who finished with 12 points but just two rebounds. “We’ve got to turn that around.”
“They just physically annihilated us on the glass,” said head coach Will Wade.
A heated affair bubbled over late. After Waters hit a three with 1:11 to cut Alabama’s lead to five, Wade picked up his third technical of the season for, presumably, bumping into an official, an action he said was unintentional, if it occurred.
Sexton buried both free throws – Alabama finished a perfect 18-of-18 at the line – and the Tide held off every late LSU effort.
“I was frustrated,” Wade said. “We didn’t fight like we needed to fight. We weren’t as tough as we needed to be. I’m so competitive and want to win. Sometimes you want it too much. I’ve got to do a better job than that.”
The critical push came early in the second half, when Alabama extended the lead from two to 11 on a 13-4 run spanning 4:46. Alabama had taken 24 second-half shots by the time LSU took its 11th, as the Tigers went long stretches without even getting field goal attempt up.
“We had open shots,” said Waters. “We just didn’t take some. We tried to make an extra play for no reason. We just didn’t shoot the ball.”
Both teams combined on 12 misses in 15 attempts to start the game before a Waters-to-Brandon Sampson alley-oop removed the lid from the rim. Waters and Reath buried 3s, and Randy Onwuasor joined the dunk party, but 3s from Avery Johnson Jr. and John Petty kept things squared at 16 after 10 minutes. Five straight points from Aaron Epps (14 points, 4 rebounds) – a corner 3 and a dunk – nosed the Tigers ahead 21-16, and his second three answered an Alabama surge to put the Tigers up four with five minutes on the clock.
Sexton’s first points of the game, a three-pointer with 3:18 to go, gave the Tide their first lead of the game, and Herbert Jones followed with another to send the guests into halftime leading 32-30.
Of LSU’s 31 first half attempts, Wade noted, 17 were 3s, and the Tigers made just four of them.
“That’s settling for the path of least resistance,” Wade said, “which you can’t do against a good team.”
LSU turned it over twice to start the second half before Skylar Mays found Reath for a layup, and Reath added another minutes later assisted by Epps, but Sexton, scoreless for 17 minutes, came out scorching out of the break. He scored six quickly and assisted another to Galin Smith, whose dunk extended Alabama’s advantage to nine, 47-38, six minutes into the second half. Braxton Key’s layup minutes later pushed the Tide lead to 51-40 with 11:21 to play in the contest.
Waters halted the run with a step-back 3, but only temporarily. A 7-0 Bama run increased the Tiger deficit to 15 before Waters hit a pair of free throws. Smith offset two more from Epps with a putback dunk, but Reath hit the floor and found Mays for a layup, LSU’s first field goal in five minutes of action, to trim the margin to 60-51 with less than six minutes left.
The Tigers clawed back to six on a Waters floater with 2:35 and five on a stepback three from the freshman with 1:10 to go, but the refs T’d Wade up, and Sexton hit both free throws for a 68-61 Alabama advantage with a minute to go. Mays’ three pulled LSU to within four, but Alabama hit its free throws late – finishing the game perfect in 18 attempts – to ice the win in front of 13,600 fans, the fifth-largest crowd in the last decade.
“I feel terrible, I feel like I let everyone down. We haven’t figured it out at home yet,” said Wade, who said he’d change the team’s pre-game home routine. “We haven’t played very well in our two home games in conference.”
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