By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Corban Collins hit three 3-pointers in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center as a freshman on LSU’s 2012-13 team.
In his unlikely return to the arena, Alabama’s senior guard buried seven triples, including five in the second half, leading the Tide to an 81-66 win in a game that was tied at 56 with five minutes to play.
“I’m a shooter,” said Collins, who finished with a game-high 24 points. “I feel like I can shoot in any gym I step into.”
Alabama (10-6, 3-1 SEC) outscored LSU 25-10 over the game’s final five minutes and 53-33 in the second half, its first 50-point half of the season. The Tigers (9-7, 1-4 SEC), meanwhile, allowed a 50-point half for the fifth time in six games, all losses.
“They made some big shots and got on a run,” said Duop Reath, who scored a team-high 12 points with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. “Coach told us at the beginning of the game it was going to be a 40 minute game. Whoever played harder for 40 minutes was going to win. I guess they won the last five minutes.”
Riley Norris added 20 points for Alabama, including back-to-back 3s to break the 56-56 tie. Skylar Mays scored 12 points for LSU, seven in the last three minutes, and the Tide face-guarded and trapped Antonio Blakeney all night, holding him to 11 points on seven shots and forcing him into three second-half turnovers.
“They want to take your shooters away,” said LSU head coach Johnny Jones. “They’re going to face guard you. They tried to no catch (Blakeney), and what they did to him late was trap him. They did that to both wing guys. It was an effective defense for them, and the traps helped them at the end of the game.”
LSU led 33-28 at the half, holding the Tide to 28 percent shooting through the first 20 minutes. The Tigers used a mix of man and zone, full court pressure and half court, to slow down the visitors. Alabama didn’t make a field goal during the last 3:48 of the half, and LSU closed the period on a 7-1 run to enter the locker room with the halftime advantage.
“The zone helped us in the first half,” said Jones. “It really kept them off balance.”
The Tide came out hot in the second half, though, opening the period on a 7-1 run. From there, the game turned into a back-and-forth affair — the lead changed 11 times on the day. LSU’s last came on a Blakeney three and an Aaron Epps three-point play to put the Tigers up 54-51 with 7:53 to play.
That’s when Collins and Norris took over, each hitting a pair of 3s in a 15-2 run spanning 3:54, giving Alabama a 67-56 lead it would only build on. The Tigers turned it over four times during that stretch, and the Tide capitalized with 13 points off turnovers in the second half and 25 for the game.
Collins was the game’s star, and said he never imagined he’d return to Baton Rouge after he left for Morehear State in 2013. He transferred to Alabama this fall as a graduate student to set up a return to LSU.
“I have the utmost respect for this school, for the program for Johnny Jones himself,” said Collins, who left LSU after his freshman season. “It was never anything negative toward him or LSU. Coming back, being able to play here, is something I never thought I’d do. Now that I was able to do it, I enjoyed it.”
The game was also a homecoming of sorts for Avery Johnson, who starred across town at Southern from 1986 to 1988.
“Knowing I went to college in Baton Rouge, I played in this building, It’s special,” said Johnson, who said he had 40 or 50 family and fans in the stands. “But I wanted it not just for my family and friends, but for our team. We needed to bounce back.”
LSU, meanwhile, is in search of answers. The Tigers have lost five of their last six, and the schedule only gets tougher, with road trips to Auburn and Arkansas on deck next week.
“Everybody’s disappointed,” Jones said. “Winning’s important. We’re disappointed for me, for the kids, for the fans, for everyone else. It’s important for us to continue to battle. We’ve got to keep preparing and battling for a breakthrough. It’s important we keep these guys up, focused, and going.”
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