OXFORD, Miss. — After giving up a nice lead down the stretch in its last two games and having to go to overtime twice in three nights, the LSU basketball team knew it had to finish Wednesday night,
After surging to an 11-point advantage in the first three minutes of the second half against Ole Miss, LSU withstood several runs over the final 14 minutes — never relinquishing the lead — and held on for a 75-71 victory in Tad Smith Coliseum.
Almost one year to the day LSU couldn’t hold on to a lead down the stretch on the same floor and went on to get blown out in overtime, the Tigers secured the win on two Keith Hornsby free throws with 5.1 seconds to play.
Hornsby poured in 20 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, but none were more important were the two that came after Ole Miss trimmed the deficit to 73-71 on a basket by Jarvis Summers with 7.2 seconds remaining.
It allowed LSU (13-3, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) to slip out of the building in regulation after suffering a gut-wrenching loss at Missouri last Thursday night and outlasting Georgia in double-overtime on Saturday night — not to mention a tough 88-74 loss in the same building last Jan. 15.
“We definitely wanted to make sure we came out and finished this game and not let it get into overtime,” said LSU forward Jarell Martin, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds.
Martin was one of three players to record a double-double for the Tigers. Forward Jordan Mickey had 11 points and 11 rebounds and point guard Josh Gray scored 14 points and handed out 10 assists.
Hornsby had the hot hand late in the first half and in the second period, almost single-handedly shooting down Ole Miss (10-6, 1-2 SEC).
He was 1-of-3 from the field in the half — all from 3-point range — but was 5-of-10 in the second half while knocking down 4 of 7 shots from beyond the 3-point line.
“They had a really big run and coach (Johnny) Jones told us to just be calm and don’t play outside of our game,” Hornsby said. “We made some plays when they counted and got the lead again.”
When Hornsby connected on his only field goal of the first half — a 3-pointer from the corner with 13.4 seconds to play for a 32-28 lead — it seemed to energize the Tigers.
LSU bolted to an 11-point lead at 43-32 less than three minutes into the second half, then survived a strong run by Ole Miss midway through the period.
Gray said the Tigers talked at halftime about finishing the game strong, which they did with that 11-4 run coming out of the locker room.
“Most definitely, we talked about just staying on the right track and picking it up in the second half — starting on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “We came out with high intensity and we finished the game off like that.”
Ole Miss tied the score at 46 with 12:45 left, but trailed for most of the remainder of the game by four to six points.
“They came in waves and they did a great job of continuing to battle,” Jones said. “They did an excellent job on the offensive glass and had 20-something (23) rebounds and a plus-19 on that end.
“Those areas we need to clean up, but at the end of the day I thought our guys were able to finish the game getting to the free-throw line and made some free throws in crucial situations.”
After tying the game with 12:45 to play, the closest Ole Miss could get was within one point at 62-61 on a 3-point basket by Stefan Moody, who scored 14 points, at the 6:24 mark. He and guard Summers, who had 13 points, combined to make just 11 of 35 field-goal attempts.
That’s when Hornsby virtually finished off the Rebels, who were being smothered on the other end by the Tigers’ defense.
Ole Miss shot just 34.6 percent from the floor and was just 5-of-23 from 3-point range.
Hornsby had a backdoor rebound basket off a missed shot by Mickey, then, after Mickey sank both ends of a one-and-one, calmly elevated and nailed a 3 from the right corner with 1:52 left.
Just 37 seconds later, Hornsby picked up one of his three assists when he pump-faked and fed the ball underneath to Martin for a lay-in and 71-65 advantage with 1:15 to play.
“The big talk at halftime was making sure we came out and played these 20 minutes, the second 20 minutes, really was going to impact the game and we had to be excellent then,” Jones said. “We came out and got off to an excellent start and made some quick shots early in the second half in that first four or five minutes and that was important for us.”