TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For a long while Saturday afternoon, it looked like the LSU men’s basketball team’s road drought against Alabama would continue.
But in what had been a house of horrors for LSU, the Tigers made all the plays they had to make — on both ends of the court — in the final two minutes to win in Coleman Coliseum for the first time since 2004.
After not having a lead for 20½ minutes, LSU climbed back on top and pulled out a win in the unlikeliest of places, overcoming an inspired Alabama team by outscoring the Crimson Tide 6-1 in the final 3 minutes, 23 seconds for a 72-70 victory.
LSU needed two defensive stops in the final 17 seconds, contesting layups by Alabama guard Retin Obasohan each time — the final one with 7 seconds left — to secure an important road win. It ended a 10-game losing streak for LSU on Alabama’s home court and helped the Tigers pull into a tie for second in the Southeastern Conference, two games behind league-leading Texas A&M.
It was anything but easy — especially in the waning seconds, when LSU was trying to hang on to a two-point lead.
“We knew they were going to Obasohan,” said LSU guard Tim Quarterman, who contested the first attempt and teamed with Keith Hornsby on the second when Alabama screened to get Obasohan an open look. “Coach (Johnny) Jones just told us to stay locked in. We needed to get stops for our team, so we just locked up and we did that.”
That was just part of it, although it was an important sequence.
Obasohan, who scored a career-high 27 points in a loss at Auburn on Tuesday, had 20 against LSU while going 7-of-12 from the field — making all three of his 3-pointers — to that point.
“I’ve been around (Alabama coach Avery Johnson) too long to know that he wasn’t going to do anything different,” Jones said. “I knew where the ball was going and pretty much how he was going to try to get it to him. He was going to screen and try to force (defensive) switches. But we were able to stay with him, at least.”
“I couldn’t see what happened when (Obasohan) came off the screen, but I knew I’d have to cut him off,” Hornsby said. “I did, but he still got a shot off. Thank goodness it didn’t go down.”
LSU (12-7, 5-2) needed an 18-10 run in the final 9:55 after Alabama (10-8, 1-5) took its largest lead at 60-54 when guard Justin Coleman barely beat the shot clock with a long 3-pointer.
But what could have been a devastating blow for LSU only made the Tigers dig a little deeper, even though they hadn’t led since the 1:59 mark of the first half.
Shortly after Coleman’s big shot, Jones, who had to take forward Craig Victor out with 12 minutes to play when he committed his fourth foul, made the decision to go with a four-guard lineup. Quarterman, Hornsby, Jalyn Patterson and Antonio Blakeney combined with forward Ben Simmons, and LSU started its run to get back in the game.
Playing a 2-3 zone, they teamed up to take a lot of the air out of Alabama’s offense, holding the Crimson Tide to 10 points in the final 10 minutes.
“We got a couple of good looks that just didn’t go down,” Johnson said. “We baited them into what we wanted, and we kicked it out for a couple of shots. We just missed a few shots there at the basket.”
On the other hand, LSU was 7-of-14 from the field down the stretch. One of the baskets was on a putback by Quarterman with 33.7 seconds remaining that broke a 70-70 tie and turned out to be the game-winner.
Moments earlier, Quarterman made a pair of free throws with 1:15 left that gave the Tigers a 70-69 lead. It was the first time they had led since the 1:49 mark of the first half.
Quarterman came off the bench for 11 points, one of five LSU players in double figures. Simmons had six points in the final 9:37 and finished with a game-high 23. Hornsby had 12, Victor matched Quarterman with 11 and Blakeney chipped in 10.
“We were able to space the floor where they had to stay locked in on our shooters,” Jones said. “I thought it opened up the floor and gave Ben some driving lanes. He was able to get to the rim and finish.
“Tim was able to get to the rim as well because they had to stay locked down on the perimeter guys. So the four-guard lineup opened the floor up for us and gave us some ability to roam a little bit.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.