Monday, January 29, 2007

Georgia Sinks Tigers at the Buzzer

ATHENS, Ga. — In a game where the margin for error was ever so slender, LSU needed one more … something.
One more shot to fall. One more defensive stop. One more rebound. One more anything.
Instead, it was Georgia that came up with one more something when it mattered. As a result, the Tigers’ margin for error the rest of this season shrunk a little more.
Levi Stukes rifled in a 23-foot jump shot with less than a second left Sunday, propelling the Bulldogs to a 57-54 triumph over LSU. The 3-pointer was Georgia’s eighth of the second half compared to only one made shot from inside the arc.
The Bulldogs (13-6, 5-2 SEC) got the ball with 33 seconds left after LSU’s Glen Davis was unable to drop in a contested left-handed jump hook from 4 feet away.
Following a timeout by each coach and a non-shooting foul on the Tigers, Georgia point guard Sundiata Gaines gathered in the inbounds pass in backcourt and dribbled toward the top of the key.
With Garrett Temple blanketing Gaines, he looked for somewhere to pass and found Mercer on the left wing.
Tasmin Mitchell had been jersey-to-jersey with the Bulldogs’ best outside shooter but suddenly broke away and joined Temple in a double team on Gaines.
Left wide open, Mercer caught the pass and uncorked a shot that nestled through the net, triggering a wild celebration. Officials reviewed the clock and put .6 of a second back, but Georgia deflected LSU’s inbounds pass to eat up the final time.
“Coach ordered the play and told me to stay on that wing,” said Stukes, who led Georgia with 16 points and buried 4-of-8 3-pointers. “(Gaines) laughed and said he was going to take the pull-up, 3-point shot as soon as the time ran off. I kind of laughed and said, ‘Just remember that I’m over here.’ Him being a great point guard, he found me again and I was able to hit the shot.”
There appeared to be some miscommunication between the Tigers and their bench on the final sequence and that breakdown proved costly.
“Coach was calling for me to come and double-team, and that’s what I did,” Mitchell said. “The way he was (waving) me to him, I felt like I had to come out.”
LSU coach John Brady said he wanted Mitchell to slide over and help Temple if Gaines began to penetrate, but not at the expense of leaving Stukes so open.
But Brady, who was left groping for answers after his team’s first three-game losing streak since 2004, also quickly and correctly pointed out that Stukes’ final dagger wasn’t the only deciding factor in the game.
Equally as big and costly were a series of offensive blunders down the stretch after an otherwise improved performance on that end of the floor.
A six-point run allowed LSU (13-7, 2-4) to creep in front 49-43 with 8:37 to go when Magnum Rolle drove the baseline for a bank shot. Instead of going for the knockout blow, however, the Tigers began a slow unraveling.
Over their final 11 offensive possessions, LSU managed only five points — none over the final 5:01 and only one field-goal attempt in the closing 3:28.
Davis, who finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high six assists (all in the first half), scored his last points on a 3-pointer at the 6:32 juncture and Darnell Lazare produced the Tigers’ last damage on a slam-dunk when he snuck behind the Georgia defense at 5:01.
From there, Temple was off the mark on a wide-open 3-pointer, Davis had to force up a 3 to beat the clock, Mitchell fell down in front of the LSU bench and lost the ball out of bounds and Gaines poked the ball away from Temple as he made his way upcourt on a fast break after a steal.
Those four empty possessions and Davis’ short miss left the door wide open for the Bulldogs.
Georgia knotted the score 54-54 on Mike Mercer’s follow dunk — the Bulldogs’ only two-point field goal of the half — after Mercer missed a 3 and Gaines missed a follow shot on the same possession. Georgia beat LSU 40-34 on the backboards and snagged 16 offensive rebounds.
“We had four or five possessions at the end of the game where we had an opportunity to score and it didn’t work,” Brady said. “They made shots when they needed to. I thought we put ourselves in a position to win the game.”
In fact, the Tigers were poised to blow the Bulldogs out of the arena in the first half but went cold from the field.
LSU came out clicking offensively — a rarity this season — and built a 19-7 cushion by hitting seven of its first 14 floor shots. Davis fed teammates on five of those makes, including the first four Tigers field goals of the game.
But after Mitchell popped an 18-foot jumper at the 12:56 mark, LSU fell out of rhythm and made just one floor shot over the ensuing 8:41. That paved the way for a 14-3 Bulldog lunge that turned a 21-9 LSU advantage into 24-23.
Terry Martin gave LSU a spark right before halftime with two 3-pointers that led to a 32-29 lead. But the second half become a back-and-forth battle of defensive wills that the Bulldogs won by getting hot from long range.
Georgia was only 3-for-11 from 3-point territory in the first 20 minutes but pumped in eight 3s in 15 attempts in the second half — three from Stukes. The Bulldogs finished the day hitting 42.3 percent from 3-point range (11-of-26) and only 28.1 percent (9-of-32) from inside the arc.

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