Jarell Martin’s mind was made up.
If he got the ball on a wide open fast break he was going to try for a spectacular, SportsCenter worthy dunk.
Late in the first half against Florida he got his chance, gathering in an errant Gators pass near midcourt.
It didn’t matter that the game was tied, that LSU’s 13-point lead over the outgunned Gators had melted away to nothing. It didn’t matter that his coach, Johnny Jones, was standing behind him at the LSU bench, thinking darkly that if Martin missed, his butt would soon be sitting on said bench — or maybe sleeping with the fishes.
Martin wasn’t worried about any of that. He wanted to set the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on fire — and in his hands he held the match.
“I wanted,” Martin said, “to give the fans something to get them out of their seats.”
On approach, flaps down, he took the ball with his left hand, went through his legs with it to his right hand and flushed it with thunderous authority.
He got his wish. They left their seats forgotten.
The Martin dunk followed a spinning slam by Jordan Mickey. It was followed by an alley opp from Jalyn Patterson to Tim Quarterman. Martin then completed the rally from two down to seven up with a long-range 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“LSU CUTTING UP,” LSU football signee Derrius Guice tweeted.
The Tigers’ hot streak continued into the second half, ending up with a 17-2 run as they reclaimed their earlier 13-point lead at 41-28.
LSU still had to fend off some Florida counterattacks but ended up a 70-63 winner.
It was a big win. They’re all big this time of year, when teams like LSU spend one eye on the opponent and another on the bracket projections.
A seven-point win over a downtrodden team like Florida — a shell of its Final Four self from last year after losing four starters plus the top two scorers from this year’s team to injury and suspension — doesn’t look like an artistic success. Not after the Tigers toyed with the Gators 79-61 in Gainesville on Jan. 20.
But the NCAA selection committee doesn’t traffic in artistic wins. It deals in who you beat and how many you beat.
By that standard, LSU is in.
A win over Florida (now 13-14) that came into the PMAC with a No. 76 RPI will actually gild the LSU resume a touch. Every little bit helps, and the fact that LSU is 4-3 against the top 50 and 6-3 against teams ranked 51-100 are numbers a lot of teams riding the bubble wish they could claim.
That LSU (RPI: 52) still has to sip the NCAA bubbly after watching the Tigers display of unbridled athleticism at the end of the first half is the head-scratching thing about this team. LSU shouldn’t be riding such a razor’s edge, but it is. It now goes on the road Tuesday to play at mediocre Auburn (12-14, 4-9; RPI: 148), a game as pivotal as any it has left. LSU lost at home to Auburn 81-77 on Feb. 5 and simply can’t afford to get swept.
When you watch Martin’s amazing dunk and the other plays that got LSU back the lead late in the first half, you wonder how the Tigers could ever find themselves in such straits. Then you watch Brian Bridgewater casually try to corral a loose ball near mid court and allow a Florida player to outhustle him for it and you remember why.
“We take breaks on the court and we know we shouldn’t,” Mickey said.
The Tigers often look like they’re saving themselves for something, but there’s not. Not if they want to see their name on Selection Sunday.
“They’ve got the talent,” ESPN college basketball writer Andy Katz said. “Now they’ve got to do the work.”
LSU needs to go to Auburn and play hard for 40 minutes — not just for the highlight.