LSU shooting guard Keith Hornsby got the look he wanted — twice.
Getting two opportunities to knock down a game-winning 3-pointer in the final 8 seconds of Tuesday night’s matchup with top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky, Hornsby, LSU’s best shooter from beyond the arc, couldn’t connect.
With his Tigers on the verge of a monumental upset, and 13,111 fans on their feet in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the first shot from the left corner was blocked out of bounds by Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison as Hornsby landed on the deck.
The second one, after a timeout to set up a play for LSU to tie or win, bounced away and allowed Kentucky to escape with a 71-69 victory — with the Wildcats surviving a furious second-half rally by the Tigers.
LSU (17-7, 6-5 Southeastern Conference) failed to score in the final 3:52 after a Jordan Mickey layup stretched a narrow one-point lead to 69-66. After that, Kentucky (24-0, 11-0 SEC) made all the key plays down the stretch to avoid its first loss.
“It was on line,” Hornsby said of his potential game-winner that didn’t find the mark after he and Tigers fans thought he was fouled on the first attempt.
“We were going to steal a game,” guard Josh Gray said after a valiant effort came up short. “We gave an opportunity to our best (3-point) shooter on the team. … We’ll live with that.”
Coming out of the timeout, LSU looked first to send the game to overtime.
The Tigers wanted to go inside to forward Jarell Martin, who had a game-high 21 points. But when he couldn’t get free on a back screen at the baseline, Hornsby popped out to the left wing.
“The last play was pretty simple,” said Hornsby, who had 17 points. “We had two options, but Jarell wasn’t open, and I popped out like I usually do. It was a tough shot; the guy was in my face. It was a good contest on his part.”
That closing sequence was typical of the Kentucky defense, which leads the SEC in fewest points allowed at 51.5 per game, in field-goal defense, 3-point field-goal defense and blocked shots.
The Wildcats also forced the Tigers to turn the ball over on a shot-clock violation with 51 seconds remaining after Kentucky regained the lead on its previous possession.
Kentucky freshman Karl-Anthony Towns made a jumper in the paint to give his team the lead at 70-69 just before LSU couldn’t get a shot off.
Devin Booker, another Kentucky freshman, made only the front end of a one-and-one with 15 seconds to play with Martin coming up with the ball after a scramble.
That’s when LSU quickly pushed the ball up the floor for Hornsby’s first 3-point attempt from the corner. After a timeout and his second shot from beyond the arc, Kentucky got away with the win.
Kentucky, which held a 58-45 lead with 12:43 to play after a 3-point basket by Harrison, was still up 60-50 with 11:27 left on a dunk by Willie Cauley-Stein before LSU went on a huge run.
On the ensuing trip down the floor, Towns was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim on a missed dunk, and LSU took advantage to get back in the contest.
Spurred on by the home crowd, Gray drained a 3-point shot after Mickey cut the deficit to 60-52 on a jumper and Hornsby hit one of two free throws on Towns’ technical.
Martin made a layup, Mickey hit a pair of free throws, and Gray penetrated the lane before Hornsby drove in for two more layups to complete a 16-0 run — giving the Tigers a 66-60 lead before the Wildcats got back in it.
“We put ourselves in the position to possibly win a basketball game,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “I thought Kentucky did a great job of getting on the offensive glass late, which was what they needed.
“Kentucky made some plays down there, which I think eventually hurt us.”
Martin had 11 rebounds, while Mickey scored 16 points and had seven rebounds and four blocks.
Cauley-Stein led Kentucky with 15 points, while Booker had 14 and Harrison 13. Towns added 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Kentucky, which led 38-34 at halftime, went on an 18-11 run to open the second half, and seemingly was in control with its biggest lead of the night.
“They made their run, but I thought our guys withstood that effort,” Jones said.
That surge came after Towns made his mistake, drawing the ire of coach John Calipari, and LSU battled back. Calipari wildly gestured at Towns several times after pulling him from the game while the Tigers mounted their comeback.
“I even said, ‘I hope we lose … watch this,’” Calipari said. “Then, it was basket, basket, basket and then he sunk in his chair.”
Towns, however, was instrumental in Kentucky’s late comeback.
He stole the ball from Mickey at the 2:46 mark with LSU leading by three, then made the go-ahead shot and pulled down an offensive rebound with 21 seconds left.
“The thing I’m proud of Karl is he came back and he grew up,” Calipari said. “Big rebound, big steal, big basket. He won the game.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate .