Liberty brought an unblemished 14-0 record to Baton Rouge and left without it.
LSU trimmed the number of unbeaten college basketball teams down to two after they defeated the Flames of the Atlantic Sun Conference 74-57 Sunday afternoon in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It was a must-win for the struggling Tigers (8-4), who sported a two-game losing streak heading into their final game before starting SEC play Saturday at Tennessee.
Following a hammering at home by ETSU and a road loss to USC, LSU coach Will Wade wasn’t shy about admitting how much his team needed the victory.
“Desperation is the proper word,” Wade said. “We needed a little desperation and a little urgency. They’ve heard those words. . .we needed to play a little more desperate and a little smarter and we had to play smarter and play with an edge today. I thought we played maybe our best game.”
LSU forward Darius Days led both teams in scoring with 14 points. Skylar Mays and Charles Manning Jr. had 12 points apiece. Javonte Smart added 11 points, 6 assists and 3 steals and had one but one turnover.
A major factor in the Tigers’ win was their ability to overcome turnovers, one of their biggest shortcomings early on in the season as they’ve tried to find chemistry and define roles meshing new faces with returnees.
LSU entered the game ranked 282nd in country in turnovers averaging 15.1 while Liberty was sixth with 10.2. The Tigers dominated the turnover battle, turning the ball over just six times while outscoring Liberty 23-0 off 13 Flames’ turnovers.
“It’s huge,” Mays said. “Especially in a game like this where they like to slow the game down and play a pretty slow pace as far as their tempo. If we could get out and go, we were trying to put our athleticism in the game and get easy buckets.”
Against a Liberty defense ranked second nationally in scoring defense allowing 51.6 points, LSU scored almost that many points just in the paint with a 46-20 advantage.
“There were a lot of small indecisions throughout the game, poor shot selection, turnovers,” Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said. “When you give the team 23 points off your turnovers, that’s a problem, and then 46 points in the paint.”
Liberty placed four players in double figures, led by Darius McGhee and Scottie James scoring 12 each.
The LSU starters only outscored Liberty’s starters 54-50, but Manning Jr. led a Tigers’ bench that held a 20-6 scoring advantage over the Flames’ reserves.
After a back and forth first half, LSU took a 32-26 lead into halftime following a 9-2 run where the Tigers made five of their last six shots.
LSU stayed hot coming out of the intermission, going on a 14-2 run between the 14:33 and 10:25 marks in the second half to race out to a 55-39 advantage on an Emmitt Williams dunk.
The Flames cut the lead to eight points at 57-48 with seven minutes left on a James lane jumper. The Tigers responded by hitting seven of their next nine shots in a game-closing 17-9 run.
LSU finished outshooting Liberty 53.3 percent to 40.8 percent from the field. That’s because the Tigers shot 62 percent in the second half by hitting 18-of-29 shots, including 3-of-5 3s.
“Our backs were against the wall and we knew we had to come out and play hard to get the win,” Manning Jr. said. “Heading into SEC play, we had to start it with a win. With the situation we’re in right now, it was kind of tough because we lost some unfortunate games. Now, we just have to fight our way out of the hole.”