The only way LSU could have stopped SEC leader Alabama’s flaming hot shooters Tuesday night is if they would have been denied entrance to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for failing to pass COVID-19 temperature checks.
In an astounding display of sizzling long-range marksmanship, the 16th ranked Crimson Tide hit an SEC record 23 3-pointers including their first 12 of 15 in the game’s opening 14½ minutes and were back on the bus headed for the airport with a 105-75 victory before LSU awakened from its defensive slumber.
It’s likely never in the 50-year history of the PMAC has a game been over so quick for the Tigers (10-3, 5-2 in SEC). They trailed by 11 points in the game’s first three minutes, by 21 just more than three minutes later and by 31 points with seven seconds left in the first half before LSU junior guard Javonte Smart’s buzzer-beating 3 cut Alabama’s halftime laugher to 28 points at 60-32.
“I don’t think anybody ever shot that well against us,” Smart said. “They shot lights out against us. Our (defensive) rotation wasn’t at its best.”
The 30-point loss was the second worst ever under fourth-year LSU coach Will Wade, whose Tigers lost by 39 points to Notre Dame in the fourth game of his first season. The loss also snapped LSU’s 10-game home win streak dating back to last season.
“We got whipped in every facet and it was totally my fault,” Wade said. “I don’t put this on the players. Give Alabama a ton of credit. They were more ready than us, they were more excited than us and they played a lot better than we did.”
Alabama senior guard John Petty Jr., the current SEC Player of the Week after averaging 20 points last week and hitting nine 3’s in a 20-point win at Kentucky and a 31-point home win over Arkansas, hit his first 7 3s vs. LSU’s welcoming 2-3 zone defense. He finished with a game-high 24 points in 25½ minutes including 8 of 10 3’s.
“I know what I do and the work I put in,” Petty said. “Shooting that well, it’s just another day in the gym, another day in the lab.”
His 3-point shooting was contagious. Alabama finished 23 of 43 (53.5 percent) from beyond the arc and that was after it missed 6 of its last 7 3’s. Freshman guard Joshua Primo scored a career-high 22 points including 6 of 8 3’s and sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly added 22 with 6 of 7 3’s.
The only intrigue for the Crimson Tide (12-3, 7-0) in the second half if they would break the SEC single-game record of 22 3’s held jointly by themselves (vs. Auburn in 2020) and by Auburn (vs. South Alabama earlier this season).
After Quinerly tied the record with 10:53 left in the game, Alabama finally broke it on freshman Darius Miles’ high-arcing left-hander with 3:01 left to play.
Even Alabama second-year coach Nate Oats was pleasantly stunned by his team’s volcanic start, considering the importance of the matchup.
“Playing for first place in the SEC, to see so many guys shooting well, four three-pointers before the first media timeout. . .we were on fire,” admitted Oats, whose team won its eighth straight game. “Kinda ridiculous shooting first half.”
LSU, which trailed by as many as 43 points at 89-46 with 10:53 left, was led by freshman Cam Thomas’ 21 points. Smart added 12 points, hitting 4 of LSU’s 5 of 26 3s. Sophomore forward Trendon Watford was limited to 11 points and 8 rebounds.
After the Crimson Tide’s mind-blowing first half – they shot 65.6 from the field (21 of 32) and 73.7 percent in 3’s (14 of 19) – there was nothing LSU could do to get back within shouting distance.
The Tigers tried full-court defensive pressing early in the second half and they created a couple of quick turnovers. But Alabama quickly righted itself and hit a stretch in which it made 6 of 8 3’s.
“I mean, we tried everything,” said Thomas, who scored just about his SEC-leading 22.1 points per game average yet was 1 for 6 in 3’s to stretch a five-game streak of 5 of 30 3-point misfiring. “They were just making threes.”
Wade said the Tigers had an “all-systems” breakdown that needs to be fixed as they head into a stretch of four road games in their next six contests starting with trips to Kentucky on Saturday and Texas A&M next Tuesday.
“The reality of it is we have been very good in league play for the last three years,” Wade said. “Our routine and what we do works. Sometimes when you get blown off your feet like this you want to go change everything. That’s not the answer. The answer is to stick to what we do. We have to do it a little bit better, actually a lot better. At the end of the day that’s the answer of what we need to do.
“I believe in our guys, our players. We became unglued tonight, head coach included. We’ll get it back together.”