Bombs away! Auburn’s 18 3-pointers help nip LSU in overtime thriller

Jonathan Mailhes

In a game that never should have gotten to overtime because of LSU’s lethargic 3-point defense, the visiting No. 18 Tigers lost a 91-90 heartbreaker at No. 11 Auburn despite the best game of senior guard Skylar Mays career.

Senior J’Von McCormick’s 8-foot floater with 0.1 seconds was the game-winner after Mays brought LSU back from a six-point deficit with 52 seconds left in the extra period.

Mays, who scored a career-high 30 points and had 7 rebounds, 7 assists and one turnover in 42 minutes, scored six points and then collected a steal and fed Emmitt Williams for a dunk that gave LSU a 90-89 lead with 11 seconds left.

LSU coach Will Wade called timeout to supposedly organize his defense, but Auburn’s McCormick was able to penetrate into the middle of the lane for a shot that hit the back rim and flopped in for the win.

“We played one of our better games of the year,” Wade said. “We just couldn’t close it out. Give Auburn credit for making a lot of plays in the stretch. Give our guys credit in overtime to come back and give ourselves an opportunity. We came up a basket short. It’s a gut punch.”

The victory kept Auburn (21-2, 8-2) unbeaten at home for the season with 13 wins in Auburn Arena. It also pulled coach Bruce Pearl’s team into a first-place tie for the SEC lead with LSU (17-6, 8-2) and No. 15 Kentucky (18-5, 8-2), which won 77-64 at Tennessee Saturday.

LSU led 71-63 with 1:26 left in regulation before Auburn just about burned down its arena with a 3-point shooting exhibition hitting its next 7-of-9 3s, including its last 3-of-4 in regulation and 4-of-5 in overtime.

When the smoke cleared, Auburn finished 18-of-44 in 3s (40.9 percent), which was good enough to offset LSU’s overall field goal shooting of 47 percent.

Auburn closed regulation play on an 8-3 run with Samir Doughty’s driving layup with 19 seconds left tying the game at 74-74.

Instead of Wade calling a timeout to diagram a play, which he admitted afterward was a mistake, he allowed his offense to play on. Mays ended up missing a forced 3-pointer with not a very clean look at the basket.

Most of LSU’s second-half scoring came from Mays, Williams (11 points, 5 rebounds) and freshman Trendon Watford (12 points, 4 rebounds). Darius Days had one of his better games of the season with 19 points but fouled out with 1:40 left in regulation.

LSU couldn’t hold off Auburn, a double-digit lead slowly eroding in the game’s final 10:34 of regulation. LSU’s defense consistently couldn’t locate AU’s 3-point shooters in transition or tried to go under screens rather than trying to fight over top.

The result was guards Doughty (26 points), McCormick (23 points) and Devon Cambridge (21 points off the bench) combining for 70 Auburn points on 17-of-31 3-point bombarding.

Ironically, McCormick, who made 5-of-10 3s, knew better than to launch one of the final possession.

“It’s a simple matter of J’Von’s the quickest guy on the floor,” Pearl said of McCormick’s game-winning shot. “J’Von was smart enough to not settle for that jumpshot. The play I called was not to pull for three, it was to somehow get to the rim. And he did. And ball went in.

“That (LSU) is a championship-caliber team. They were locked in, they were ready to go. If you’re going to win a game like that against a team like that, you have to have special. We had a lot of special.”

Auburn took away two major LSU strengths, rebounding and free throws. AU hammered LSU on the backboards 46-36 including a 17-9 offensive rebounding domination.

“We controlled the game for a while,” Wade said, “but we could never get it above 14 points (in the second half). They got 12 offensive rebounds in the second half and in overtime. We couldn’t check them out.”

LSU led 42-30 at halftime after an opening 20 minutes full of runs.

A 22-3 LSU burst, with Mays and Watford alternating attacks to the basket and 3-point shots, gave the visiting Tigers a 32-15 lead that stunned an Auburn home crowd featuring former AU star and Naismith Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.

But in what was a sign of things to come, Auburn ran off 11 straight points keyed by three 3’s. In a 9:04 span that started with 4:47 left in the first half that stretched to 15:43 in the second half, Auburn swished 5-of-9 3s.

It was a problem LSU never solved as it suffered its second straight SEC loss, something that hasn’t happened to the defending conference champions since Feb. 2018 in Wade’s first season as coach.

LSU returns home Tuesday for an 8 p.m. game against Missouri, a team LSU beat on the road 86-80 in overtime last season after trailing by 14 points with 2:14 left in regulation.

“At the end of the day I’m as down as anybody,” Wade said after the Tigers’ fourth loss of the year by two or fewer points. “But we’re still tied for first place and it’s an eight-game race to see who can still win (the conference regular season championship).

“This is as tough as an environment and as good a team as there is our league and we came in here and stood toe-to-toe with them. We were locked in and engaged. We’ve got to continue down that path.”

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Ron Higgins

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