No. 16 Auburn proves to be too much for LSU to handle as Tigers suffer first SEC loss of the season, 93-78

Trae Hannibal tried to lead LSU back from a 28-point deficit against Auburn on Saturday night with a gallant second-half performance, but he and LSU fell short. PHOTO BY LSU Athletics

LSU needed to play a virtually flawless game Saturday night on the road at No. 16 Auburn in the hostile environment that is Neville Arena to have a chance to pull off a big upset and remain unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play.

LSU played no where near flawless against Auburn on this night.

LSU also knew it would more than likely need to withstand a few storms from coach Bruce Pearls’ Auburn team that had won eight straight games by double digits and put together a gaudy 38-2 record on its home floor over the past three seasons.

There were definitely at least two major storms for LSU at Auburn on Saturday night and its best player went missing after a strong start, but it survived with a late rally to fight another day.

Auburn’s Chad Baker-Mazara scored 19 points and had six steals off the bench as Auburn built a 28-point second-half lead and then held on for a 93-78 win over LSU.

Auburn (14-2, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) had a season-high 16 steals against LSU (10-6, 2-1).

Center Johni Broome added 18 points and seven rebounds for Auburn, which shot 40% on 3-pointers and 87.1% from the free-throw line.

Trae Hannibal and Jordan Wright led LSU with 18 points each. Most of Hannibal’s and Wright’s points came in the second half as LSU cut a 28-point Auburn lead to eight points.

Will Baker added 13 and Tyrell Ward had 12 points for LSU.

Early in the game, LSU’s best player, point guard Jalen Cook, scored seven of his team’s first 11 points. But Cook did not score another point and ended up logging only 18 total minutes for the game.

LSU turned the ball over 17 times – 16 of which came as a result of steals by Auburn – and LSU gave up 26 points on those turnovers.

You don’t have to be a statistician to figure out when you add in the fact that LSU also sent Auburn to the free throw line 31 times where Pearl’s team scored another 27 points, that the visiting Tigers were anything but flawless.

In other words, LSU gifted the 16th-ranked team in the country playing on its home court where it rarely ever loses 53 points.

Most of those points LSU gave to Auburn came during two storms that literally whipped the sold-out home crowd into a frenzy.

The first storm began early on and resulted in a 19-4 Auburn run over the final 6:37 of the first half and blew open a tight two-point game. Auburn was holding precariously to a 32-30 lead when the clouds burst on that first storm.

By the time it died down, Auburn’s two-point lead had grown to 17, 51-34 at halftime.

Before LSU had a chance to regroup, Auburn began the second half riding the wave of another storm it concocted, as it blew out to a 28-point lead, 73-47, with 11:37 left in the game.

With Cook sitting on the bench for good by this point, LSU appeared completely out of options.

But then Hannibal, not known as a outside shooting threat, pumped in a 3-pointer after pulling down a long offensive rebound. It was Hannibal’s third made 3-pointer of the season in four attempts.

Before Auburn could respond, Ward pulled down a defensive rebound and seconds later took a pass from Wright and immediately let go a 3 that landed softly in the net.

Then, Ward followed by hitting two more long-range 3-pointers and, just like that, LSU had put together a 12-0 run, cut Auburn’s lead to 16 points, 73-57, with more than nine minutes were left in the game.

With 2:12 left in the game, Hannibal hit a pair of free throws that cut Auburn’s lead to eight points, 81-73, but LSU could get no closer.

“You look at the first 28 minutes or so of the game and Auburn had everything to do with this, but the turnovers, they forced us into some tough shots. The biggest issue with the 17 turnovers that we had for the game: 16 of them were Auburn steals. So, you’re better off just throwing the ball into the stands so you can at least set your defense, but they had 16 live ball steals that put them out in transition and that’s how they were able to build the huge lead,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said.

“Now, 11:30 to go, getting run out of the building, I loved the fight and the toughness that group showed on the floor. We were able to start taking care of the ball which kept us out of transition defense, we were able to get downhill, and get to the rim, (Trae) Hannibal and (Jordan) Wright were terrific finishing players there, Tyrell Ward hit three threes in a row in that stretch and we were able to set our defense and be a lot more solid on that end of the floor to get it back to a single digit game. But a team like that with no weaknesses, you can’t get in that big of a hole and think you are going to come back and win the game,” he said.

LSU started the game making 9-of-12 field goal attempts but was just 2-of-15 the rest of the way to finish the half 12-of-27 (44.4%). Auburn was 14-of-28 overall from the field in the opening half and 7-of-14 from distance. But Auburn shot 19 free throws in the first half, making 16. LSU was 6-of-11.

LSU finished the game at 42.4 percent (25-of-59) with 9-of-23 from distance (39.1%). LSU made 19-of-25 from the free throw line for 76 percent.

Auburn finished the game 28-of-61 overall (45.9%), 10-of-25 from distance (40 percent) and a very good 27-of-31 at the free throw line (87.1%).

The teams were about even in points in the paint at 32-30, in favor of Auburn.

LSU plays Ole Miss at 6 PM central in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. “Looking forward to getting back home. Like I said, it’s 18 one-game seasons, very disappointed in the result, but we’ve got to learn from the good of the last 12 minutes and the bad of the first 28 minutes and get better and prepare for a really talented Ole Miss team on Wednesday night,” McMahon said.

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Todd Horne

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