(Editor’s note: This is the updated version with quotes)
Finally, there were no prolonged collapses, no wandering focus, no waning attention to detail, no hanging on for dear life.
After winning its last six games by a combined 15 points, No. 22 SEC-leading LSU played from start to finish Wednesday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center like a ranked team in first place in a major conference.
The Tigers led for all but 43 seconds in a dominating 90-76 victory over Alabama for LSU’s ninth straight win, improving to 16-4 overall and 7-0 in the SEC.
Sparked by 23-point effort from springy forward Emmitt Williams whose boundless energy was contagious, LSU also placed four other players in double figures and efficiently handled an Alabama (12-8, 4-3) team that had won four straight games.
It happened without the Tigers’ unwanted trademark of late, blowing second half double-digit leads turning apparently easy wins into suspenseful finishes.
“We knew what we had work on,” said LSU freshman forward and Alabama native Trendon Watford, who contributed a double-double with 17 points and career-high 15 rebounds. “We didn’t like closing out games the way we’ve been doing, just like you didn’t like it. We had to get better at that and I feel like we took a step forward.”
So did LSU head coach Will Wade, who called his team out loud and long in Monday’s press conference for their inability to close games.
“The press conference was the PG-version,” Wade said. “I was much more animated in our (team) film session, but I did it a good way. Our guys understand we have to get better. What we were doing was not sustainable. We’ve got to continue to improve.”
Alabama came to Baton Rouge leading the SEC in seven statistical categories including a league-best 82.6 points per game.
The Tide’s backcourt of Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty Jr. entered the game as the SEC’s second best scoring duo averaging a combined 33.2 points. Lewis Jr. had averaged 19.3 points in his last three games. Petty Jr. was on a 15-game tear averaging 18.1 points and shooting an unfathomable 51.3 percent from 3-point range.
LSU’s defense erased Lewis Jr. for one half and Petty Jr. for the entire game.
Lewis Jr. scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half while Petty Jr. was limited to 4 points, all after halftime. The usually dynamic duo shot a combined 7-for-19 including 1-of-7 3s.
It didn’t help Petty Jr. that Alabama first-year coach Nate Oats decided not to start him for the first time this season. Oats said he did that because he wanted to get his leaders to practice better and apparently Petty Jr. didn’t meet Oats’ satisfaction level.
Instead, Oats started 6-9 forward Gatlin Smith to try and combat LSU’s ferocious rebounding, and the Tigers still swallowed him and his teammates whole on the backboards by a 49-31 count. That included 14 offensive rebounds leading to a 20-5 LSU second-chance points domination.
“Tried to to make a statement with that (not starting Petty Jr.) and it obviously backfired,” Oats said. “He’s one of our best players. We needed him there to play a lot of minutes.”
Petty Jr. played 33 minutes anyway and it didn’t matter. He was hounded by LSU defenders on and off the ball, especially by reserve guard Marlon Taylor.
It wasn’t before long in the first half that the Tigers got on a 14-0 run, which eventually became a 20-point lead before settling on a 51-33 halftime advantage.
LSU did virtually nothing wrong in the first 20 minutes. It patiently ran its offense and took few bad shots. It attacked the basket with abandon. The Tigers’ offensive rebounding was so dominant so quickly that Alabama’s Oats was stomping his feet in frustration.
Throw in LSU’s lockdown defense on Lewis Jr. and Petty Jr., who shot a combined 1-of-9 from the field including 0-of-5 3-pointers and the Tigers were breezing by 18 points at the break.
The Tigers’ main energy source was the 6-6 Williams, who scored 17 first-half points, grabbed 7 rebounds and just knocked defenders aside storming to the basket for three dunks.
His offensive focus, consistent from game-to-game, is simplistic yet usually effective.
“I just tell the team to shoot the ball and I try to get it off the glass,” Williams said. “I love it.”
Wade returned the love.
“He was an absolute monster,” Wade said of Williams. “He made some huge plays at the beginning of the game. He had some huge baskets for us in the second half. Our team certainly feeds off his energy. The crowd feeds off his energy. “
In the early stages of the second half, passing the litmus test seemed a bit shaky for LSU.
By the first media timeout with 15:16 left to play, Alabama had shaved six points off the Tigers’ lead. After hitting four 3’s in the first half, the Tide drained three 3’s in the opening 4:34 after halftime.
They seemed to finally catch their desired rhythm and LSU inexplicably began firing up 3-pointers before the Tigers snapped back to their senses.
Even after Alabama knocked the Tigers’ lead to single digits twice at nine points, the last time at 70-61 on a Petty Jr. dunk with 9:21 left, LSU held tough.
Mays’ pull-up jumpers and Smart’s physical drives into the teeth of the Tide defense pushed the LSU margin back to double digits for the rest of the game.
The Tigers play Ole Miss (10-10, 1-6) Saturday at 11 a.m. in a home game commemorating the 50th anniversary of LSU guard “Pistol” Pete Maravich becoming college basketball’s all-time leading scorer.
Then, for the second of three times this season, the Tigers play consecutive road games at Vanderbilt next Wednesday and at Auburn a week from Saturday.