KJ Williams led the way with 18 points, but it was freshman center Shawn Phillips, Jr. who helped steal the show.
Phillips’ career-high 13 points and first-ever double-double, along with Trae Hannibal’s 14 points and 11 rebounds plus a clutch four-point play by Adam Miller, powered 14th-seeded LSU past No. 11 seed Georgia 72-67 on Wednesday night in the opening round of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
LSU, which blew double-digit leads in the second half of recent losses to Missouri and Florida, held on to a 12-point halftime lead until Georgia tied it at 57-57 on a 3-pointer by Jabri Abdur-Rahim with under 4:45 left in the game.
Georgia led 61-59 after two free throws by Justin Hill.
But then March Madness kicked in. Or, perhaps, March Magic. Take your pick.
Miller’s four-point play put LSU up with 3:02 to play, 63-61.
He came off a double, staggered screen and emerged at the top of the key slightly off edge to the right with a momentary glimpse of light – enough time to launch a clean three before Mat Moncrief fouled him.
Miller’s long shot landed softly in the net and he headed to foul line where he converted his only free throw attempt of the night. Williams followed with two free throws for a 65-61 lead.
But Georgia tied the score at 67 when Hill finished off a three-point play with 1:33 remaining. The Bulldogs, however, did not score again.
A one-handed slam dunk putback by Phillips Jr. gave LSU a 69-67 lead. Seconds later, at the other end of the floor in the paint, Phillips rejected a Braelen Bridges apparent gimme and then, moments later, a short jumper by Williams put the Tigers up by four with 22 seconds to go.
Bridges missed a jumper for Georgia and LSU’s Trae Hannibal added a free throw to cap his team’s scoring.
Phillips, Jr.’s play was crucial for LSU because Georgia’s plan was to attack the Tigers in the paint and LSU lost the services of Derek Fountain when the 6-foot-10 forward injured his shoulder during practice during a collision with a teammate, ESPN reported. He was on the bench in street clothes with his right arm in a sling and his status for Thursday’s second round with Vanderbilt is reportedly day-to-day.
LSU (14-18) will play sixth-seeded Vanderbilt at approximately 8:30 p.m. in the nightcap. The Tigers beat Vanderbilt 84-77 on Feb. 22 at the PMAC to put end a 14-game losing streak, handing the Commodores their only loss in their last seven conference games.
Williams had eight rebounds, four assists and three steals for LSU. He was 8 for 8 on free throws and the Tigers made 20 of 26. Hannibal had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Phillips added 13 points with 10 rebounds and Miller added 10.
Georgia (16-16) had five players in double figures led by the 13 points of Bridges and Hill. Terry Roberts added 12 points, Kario Oquendo 10, and Abdur-Rahim 10.
“I just absolutely love tournament basketball,” LSU basketball coach Matt McMahon said. “I hate to be playing on this opening night and I don’t ever want to be back, but it’s a great atmosphere. And I was really proud of our players tonight. We were connected at the defensive end of the floor, and, offensively, we had 10 assists with only one turnover in the first half, finished 13 and 5, which has been a good number for us. And that’s how you overcome the fact we didn’t shoot the ball great by any means, 36 percent from the floor and only 20 percent from three, but we got to the free-throw line and converted. We dominated on the offensive glass. And then we won the turnover battle. And, so really proud of our guys and the response and finding the way to win.
“I hate what happened with Derek with the shoulder injury, but we needed guys to step forward. I thought Shawn Phillips made huge plays. The double-double will standout for everyone, the 13 and 10, but he made winning plays in that final four-minute segment. I mean he made two huge free throws, blocked a shot. His offensive rebound putback simply impacted winning,” McMahon said.
McMahon also said it will take another special against Vanderbilt to keep winning going. The Commodores will likely be without its star Liam Robbins.
“It’s a little bit of a unique challenge from the standpoint we just saw him three weeks ago with Liam Robbins he scored like 50 points, 14 rebounds and had 25 blocks, it seemed like that,” McMahon said. “He’s out, but I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the only game they’ve lost since the end of January was that game at the PMAC?
“They’re still playing very well even with him out,” McMahon said. “So, we’re going to have to do a good job of figuring out what they’re doing offensively without his presence down there in the post and make sure we’re locked in. I just think they’re a terrific offensive team. So, we’ll have to do a great job defensively and then have a similar offensive attack to what we did when I think we scored 84.”
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