By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
A big night from Brandon Sampson wasn’t enough on a cold Tuesday night in Baton Rouge, as Georgia’s relentless rebounding and a sluggish second half start saw the Tigers fall 61-60, keeping LSU winless in the SEC at home in the Will Wade era.
Sampson scored 17 points for LSU (11-6, 2-3 SEC) on 6-of-11 shooting, while Yante Maten scored 21 points – including the game-winner with 5.7 seconds left – and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Bulldogs (12-5, 3-3 SEC).
Georgia, the SEC’s best on the boards, beat LSU 38 to 27 on the glass and outscored the Tigers 17 to 5 in second-chance points. The Bulldogs also used an 8-0 run out of the halftime locker room to erase a double-digit LSU lead and set the stage for a dramatic finish.
“Lack of execution on our part,” Sampson said of the slow second-half start. “A lot of teams come out and play well against us after halftime. I think it’s something we really need to work on, try to have that same defensive momentum we had in the first half. We did really good defensively in the first half, we came out flat in the second half.”
“They out-toughed us,” said Duop Reath, who scored 12 points and grabbed three rebounds.
Down one after Reath’s baseline jumper with 41 seconds to go, Georgia rebounded a miss from Teshaun Hightower with 23 seconds left and called timeout. Maten, who needed 20 shots to get his 21 points, took advantage of a pick and roll switch by LSU, backing down Skylar Mays to the rim and finishing from four feet out for the winner.
Wade said LSU thought about going zone and planned to double-team Maten when he caught it. But the double was late, and the shot was good.
“It’s a tale of two halves,” head coach Will Wade said. “We controlled the pace in the first half. The second half, they controlled things, just physically beat us up in the paint.”
In his first start since injuring his ankle against Notre Dame in Maui, Sampson buried his first look of the game, and LSU used a 10-0 run – keyed by threes from Daryl Edwards and Aaron Epps – to pull ahead 17-9 after eight minutes of play. The Bulldogs got as close as three on a Harris jumper, but the Tigers dialed up an 11-2 run this time, bookended by a Mays layup and a Mays three-pointer. Tremont Waters’ stepback jumper as time expired sent the hosts into the locker room up 34-24 after a slow, methodical half of basketball.
LSU cut its three-point attempts in half, from 17 in the first half against Alabama to eight against Georgia, and made as many (four). Meanwhile, its mix-and-match defensive approach, featuring zones, man, and full-court pressure, kept the Bulldogs to 1-of-9 shooting from deep and 40.7 percent shooting overall.
The Bulldogs started the second half on an 8-0 run before Sampson’s second three of the night slowed the bleeding. Georgia battered the Tigers on the boards, grabbing eight boards before LSU grabbed its first six minutes into the half. Maten’s three-point play tied the score at 37 before a Hightower free throw gave UGA its first lead since the opening minutes of the game. Maten scored five straight break a tie at 41, but the Tigers scored six straight, retaking the lead on Sampson’s up-and-under layup.
“I told myself before the game to be more aggressive,” said Sampson, who scored his most points since dropping 20 against Samford in LSU’s second game of the season. “I think getting to the basket helped me spread out the in and out game.”
Tied at 50 with 5:30 left, LSU inched ahead on Duop Reath’s top-of-the-key triple, only to fall behind a minute later on a pair of Maten freebies. Sampson’s three gave the Tigers another lead, the 10th lead change of the half.
Georgia had a chance to tie or take the lead after Mays’ turnover and intentional foul gave Teshaun Hightower two free throws and the Bulldogs the ball. Hightower, a 45.8 percent free-throw shooter, missed both, but Juwan Parker’s ensuing three-pointer put the Bulldogs up 59-58 with 56.1 seconds to go. Following Maten’s winner, Waters got a look at a winner, but his running three-pointer was far wide of the target.
The Tigers shot 52 percent from the floor in the first half and 50 percent from 3, but those numbers dropped to 35.7 percent and 23.1 percent after halftime.
“A lot of things have to go right for us,” said Wade. “We have to make shots…We can only beat you a couple different ways. Really good teams can beat you seven, eight, nine different ways. If we’re not able to get into that style, it decreases our opportunity to win.”