It seemed the only drama Tuesday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center would be whether LSU hit the century mark for the first time in seven seasons.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Northwestern State created some real drama.
The Demons surged back from a 21-point deficit to make it a four-point game in the final minutes, a fast, sudden comeback that made LSU work for a 102-95 victory before an announced crowd of 7,018.
“I told our guys, ‘This game is a long way from being over,’ because I knew those guys didn’t have any quit in them,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “They would continue to battle and fight. I knew coming in it was going to be a hard-fought basketball game.”
The two-headed monster that was James Hulbin and DeQuan Hicks helped Northwestern threaten to end an eight-game losing streak against LSU that dates to the 1950s. But the Tigers — who’ve often struggled from the foul line this season — knocked down enough free throws late to survive.
Hulbin scored 29 points for Northwestern and grabbed six rebounds, while Hicks had 28 points and seven boards.
To offset the late Northwestern rally, LSU needed its first trip to triple figures since early in the 2005-06 season, the year Glen Davis, Tyrus Thomas & Co. led the Tigers to a Final Four berth.
Jones, however, focused more on the points his team gave up.
“Scoring 102 points, that generally doesn’t happen,” Jones said. “We want to try to score around 75-80 points and hold our opponents, hopefully, in the 60s at best. We want to hold them to a low field-goal percentage shooting night.”
Off to their first 3-0 start since the 2009-10 season, the Tigers will face Mississippi Valley State on Saturday before closing November with a home game against Seton Hall in the SEC-Big East Challenge.
Shavon Coleman, who exploded for 25 points in a rout of McNeese State last week, followed that performance with a team-high 22 points Tuesday. Anthony Hickey had 21 points, and Charles Carmouche added 19, part of a balanced offensive attack that featured four Tigers in double figures.
Johnny O’Bryant was the other top scorer, chipping in 13 points to go with six rebounds after missing the past game and a half with a strained calf.
Andrew Del Piero had only four points and two rebounds, but the former walk-on saw the first first-half action of his career and helped give the Tigers a lift late in a momentum-turning first half.
LSU finished the first half with 52 points, its first time reaching 50 in a half since last year’s season opener.
Despite those efforts, Northwestern, after falling behind 72-51 on a Malik Morgan layup with 12:14 left, got all the way back within 88-82 when Hulbin drew a foul by O’Bryant — the LSU big man’s fifth — and scored inside with 2:47 left.
“We knew that we all had to come together, especially when Johnny fouled out of the game,” Coleman said. ‘We knew that we all had to come together, stay focused and finish the game.”
The Demons (3-1) got as close as four points, first on a Hicks layup with 1:56 to play and again on a pair of Shamir Davis free throws with 17 seconds left.
But LSU perked up from the free-throw line right in time.
The Tigers entered Tuesday having connected on only 19 of 42 free throws (45.2 percent) and started the third game of year 16-of-34 from the line. They found the mark late, making 13 of their 17 attempts in the final three-plus minutes.
LSU’s late accuracy from the line included Carmouche’s making three of four in the final 15 seconds.