Thursday, February 1, 2007

Heartbreak for LSU

Heartbreak can come in many forms, and it seems the LSU basketball team is destined to find as many ways to lose basketball games as it can.
Wednesday presented a different method, but the same unsavory result for the Tigers.
LSU got the kind of breakthrough effort it needed for 35 1/2 minutes Wednesday when 19th-ranked Alabama visited the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
But the last 4 1/2 were rife with the same recent problems that have dogged the Tigers for three weeks, and the Crimson Tide seized the opportunity.
Alabama scored 10 of the final 12 points to rally for a 73-70 triumph and hand LSU its fourth loss in a row — the second straight decided in the closing minute.
This one may be the most damaging and difficult to swallow.
The Tigers (13-8, 2-5 SEC) led by eight points with 9:33 left in the game and by five with 4:34 on the clock and couldn’t hold on to either lead. Instead of doing the things good teams do to close out victories, LSU did what it’s done so often this season.
The Tigers unraveled, scoring only two points in the last 4:34 and that swung the door open for a struggling Alabama team.
“We have to play better in the last five minutes,” LSU coach John Brady said. “We didn’t play the last five minutes well against Georgia and we didn’t play well the last five minutes (Wednesday). We had some opportunities in the last five minutes, but we made some poor decisions.”
After Magnum Rolle’s 17-foot jump shot from the circle at the 4:34 mark, LSU missed five of its last six field goals.
That dry spell allowed the Tide (16-5, 3-4) to chip away, with Jermareo Davidson igniting the comeback when he buried a 15-foot jump shot as the shot clock was about to expire. That shot whittled LSU’s lead to 68-65, and Alabama knocked down six straight free throws down the stretch to surpass the Tigers.
With a 68-67 cushion, LSU got an extended possession when Glen Davis missed but the Tigers forced a jump ball on the rebound when Davidson grabbed the rebound but sprawled out in the lane to protect possession.
Johnson, who tallied 10 points in the second half and finished with a career-high 13, took an inbounds pass and immediately launched a 15-foot jumper from the left wing that hit nothing and the Tide got the ball when he it squirted out of bounds.
“That was what we wanted him to do, shoot that off our four-play,” Brady said. “They had Davidson guarding him and we set a stagger screen and he broke clean. Even though he’d been on the bench, that’s what we called and what we wanted. That one didn’t go down.”
On the ensuing possession, Alabama set up a clear-out on the opposite end for the red-hot Davidson. He caught the ball on the side of the lane and drove to the basket past Rolle, who fouled. Davidson calmly dropped in two free throws for a 69-68 Tide lead.
With LSU looking to regain the lead, Garrett Temple threw a bad pass toward the sideline and Alabama’s Alonzo Gee picked it off. Gee was fouled and swished two free throws to nudge the Tide lead to 71-68 with 23.1 seconds to go.
When LSU came down the floor, Johnson put up a 3-pointer from the right corner that spun in and out. Tasmin Mitchell snatched the offensive rebound and couldn’t convert from close in, but Johnson dunked the follow shot to pull the Tigers within 71-70.
Needing to foul, LSU couldn’t stop the clock until Johnson knocked the ball out of bounds with 2.9 seconds to go. Alabama got the ball in cleanly to Gee, who missed a layup, but Davidson fittingly ended the game by dunking a follow shot right before time expired to cap a career-best 31-point night.
“He stepped up,” Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said of Davidson, who was 12-of-20 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. “Jermareo, I thought, was phenomenal. He just stepped up with a lot of courage and we went to him when we needed to with a little isolation play. He took it strong to the basket. He just willed our team to a victory.”
The Tigers were in good shape to spoil Davidson’s monster night.
After the two teams went back and forth for the first 29 minutes, LSU carved out some breathing room with a six-point burst in 21 seconds when Rolle hit a pair of free throws, Darnell Lazare stuck a baseline jumper and Ben Voogd drove the lane for a tear-drop bank shot. The last two baskets came when LSU surprised the Tide with a full-court press.
Alabama crept back within 62-60 with eight unanswered points, but the Tigers seemed to regain their footing when Mitchell drove for a short jumper from the baseline and Glen Davis charged in for a reverse layup. Moments later Rolle popped a jumper from the circle to give LSU a 68-63 advantage.

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