The LSU basketball team missed its first nine 3-point attempts of Tuesday night’s game with Georgia, which led the Southeastern Conference in field-goal defense going into the contest.
But when Georgia hung around well into the second half and LSU needed the long ball at a crucial time, the Tigers found the range and lit the Bulldogs up.
It’s a good thing they did.
LSU was holding a precarious two-point lead over Georgia at 61-59 with 6:45 to play when guard Jalyn Patterson buried a 3-pointer to ignite a 19-7 run over the next four-plus minutes in an 89-85 win in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It wouldn’t be the last 3-point basket of the night for Patterson, who was hitting just 28.9 percent from beyond the arc going into the game.
He knocked down two more 3-pointers down the stretch, and guard Keith Hornsby had another to help LSU build its largest lead of the night at 80-66 with 2:27 left.
The Tigers made six of their final 10 shots from 3-point range.
LSU needed every one of them, however, as Georgia got back into the game when the Tigers had trouble at the free-throw line, missing five of 12 attempts when the Bulldogs could only foul in an attempt to steal a victory.
Georgia took advantage of the opportunity and trimmed the 14-point deficit to a single point twice with 22 seconds and 16 seconds to play.
The Bulldogs had the ball with a chance to tie or win as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
But with 4 seconds left, reserve forward E’Torrion Wilridge, who was in the game because three of Georgia’s big men — Yante Maten, Michael Edwards and Houston Kessler — all fouled out, couldn’t connect on a 15-foot jumper from the left baseline after getting a good look.
LSU’s Antonio Blakeney corralled the rebound and was fouled, then sank both free throws with 0.1 second left to finally secure the victory after some anxious moments for what was left of a paid crowd of 10,479.
“That team, they weren’t going to quit,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said of Georgia. “After getting the (14-point) lead, we played with too much comfort, we were too loose with the basketball.
“We were sitting there in the zone, and there’s no way we should have been giving up easy drives for easy scores. Defensively, we didn’t close the game out the right way. We didn’t force them to shoot long-range shots; we gave up layups.”
“It happened very quick,” LSU guard Tim Quarterman said. “They got easy baskets at the rim because of the defense we were playing. We didn’t want to foul and give them ‘and ones.’ But we made enough plays to win the game.”
The narrow victory was the second in a row for LSU (13-7, 6-2) and helped keep the momentum going for Saturday’s matchup with No. 1 Oklahoma in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in the PMAC.
LSU moved into sole possession of second place in the league when Florida dropped a 60-59 decision to Vanderbilt. Kentucky, which was tied with LSU and Florida, hosts Missouri on Wednesday night.
Ben Simmons and Quarterman, who was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench the past four games, each scored 22 to lead the Tigers in the victory. Blakeney, who made four clutch free throws late, had 12 points, and Patterson and Craig Victor finished with 11 each.
Simmons also led LSU with 14 rebounds, while Victor, who again battled foul trouble, had eight.
Georgia (11-7, 4-4) had a two-game winning streak snapped even though their three-guard lineup of J.J. Frazier, Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann combined for 65 points. Frazier had 26, Gaines 20 and Mann 19.
Maten, a 6-foot-8 forward who was averaging 16.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game going into the contest, had five points and three rebounds before fouling out with 9:25 to play. He played just 20 minutes.
LSU was shaky at the free-throw line all night, hitting just 37 of 55 attempts for 67.3 percent. The Tigers were 7-of-12 in a 2-minute, 15-second stretch when Georgia went crazy and made 6-of-7 from the field before Wilridge missed.
Blakeney, who hit the two free throws to finish off the Bulldogs, also had a pair with 21 seconds remaining after Frazier hit a 3-point shot to cut the Tigers’ lead to 84-83.
Georgia trailed 86-85 after Frazier made a layup with 16 seconds left, then was two points down when Wilridge missed with 9 seconds left.
“We didn’t expect the person who shot the ball at the end to shoot the last shot, but that’s how it went,” Quarterman said. “We’re just glad to get that last stop. It shows our character.”
Still, it wasn’t the way Jones envisioned closing it out.
“You have to make sure you’re locked in,” Jones said. “You’ve got to make the right plays and close out the game the right way. We have to make sure we take care of the ball and be poised.
“It’s good that we’ll have a chance to correct those things, but we gave up too many points to a team that was scoring about 67 points a game.”