For the second time in less than a year Saturday afternoon, the LSU men’s basketball team came oh-so-close to knocking off the No. 1 team in the nation.
But for the second time in 354 days, LSU lost in heartbreaking fashion in front of a rocking crowd in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Last Feb. 10, Kentucky escaped LSU’s upset bid with a 71-69 victory. This time, it was Oklahoma, which has held the top spot in The Associated Press rankings for two weeks, that notched a narrow two-point win.
In a highly anticipated battle of preseason All-Americans — Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and LSU forward Ben Simmons — Hield and the Sooners prevailed when Isaiah Cousins hit the winning shot with 3.8 seconds to play for a 77-75 win.
LSU had one final shot at forcing overtime when guard Tim Quarterman quickly pushed the ball up the floor, but his field-goal attempt just before the final horn was blocked by OU forward Khadeem Lattin.
Many LSU fans in the crowd of 13,882 thought Lattin’s right arm hit Quarterman across the chest, but the officials made no call as Oklahoma celebrated a win in which it had to come back from a 14-point second-half deficit.
“I thought Tim did what he was supposed to do — get it to the rim and give (the officials) an opportunity to make the call,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said.
“I haven’t had the chance to go back and watch it, but I thought he went in there in traffic. He didn’t have the opportunity to get the ball to the rim.”
In need of an NCAA tournament résumé-building win that would have done wonders for its postseason chances, LSU (13-8) took a gut-wrenching defeat, while Oklahoma (18-2) solidified its spot atop the AP poll.
“I went to the hole pretty hard and got hit, but they didn’t call the foul,” Quarterman said. “That’s just the way the game ended.”
LSU did have its opportunities earlier, but the Tigers couldn’t get enough momentum to turn the Sooners away in the second half.
LSU held a 61-51 advantage with 10:01 remaining when Simmons tipped in a missed shot by Jalyn Patterson, but that would be its last double-digit lead.
It didn’t help that Simmons, who made his first six shots from the floor, only had one field-goal attempt after putting back Patterson’s miss and didn’t score while the lead dwindled away.
“It’s going with what works,” Simmons said. “Me going inside was working, and then me kicking it out was working. Craig (Victor) was posting up, and then we hit the outside shots. We were doing well in the first half, and we went away from it in the second half. That’s the way the game went.”
When LSU hit a cold spell, scoring just four points in almost 6½ minutes, OU seized the momentum. With Hield making 7-of-9 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc in the final 19 minutes, he kept his team in the game.
Hield never looked comfortable in the first 20 minutes as Quarterman and Antonio Blakeney took turns guarding him. He was 1-of-5 from long range in the first half and had just 11 points as LSU took a 44-36 halftime lead.
Hield certainly made up for it in the second half. After missing a layup and a 3-point attempt, he was 7-of-9 — each shot from 3-point range — and finished with a game-high 32 points. He added seven rebounds.
“He got a couple of open looks in the second half that got him going,” Quarterman said. “We were attached to him in the first half. He had a hard time at the beginning, but he got freed up during the fast-break opportunities and he took advantage.”
“It’s all confidence,” Hield said. “My teammates kept lifting me up even though I started off missing the first two (shots) in the second half. Coach (Lon Kruger), my teammates and Isaiah, they found me good spots and I was able to knock down a good rate of my shots.”
Hield finished 11-of-22 from the field — including 8-of-15 on 3-pointers. One of them gave Oklahoma a 73-72 edge after Blakeney hit a 3 of his own for a 72-70 lead at the 2:16 mark.
While he was a thorn in LSU’s side, so were Cousins and forward Ryan Spangler.
Cousins knocked down 8-of-14 field-goal attempts — sandwiching two key baskets around Hield’s last 3-pointer of the game — before getting what turned out to be the game-winner over Patterson.
Cousins finished with 18 points, and Spangler had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Quarterman led LSU with 18 points, and Victor followed with 15. Simmons totaled 14 points and had nine rebounds and five assists. Blakeney — who had two huge 3-pointers in the waning minutes, including one that tied it at 75 and set up OU for the winning shot — added 11 points.
But it wasn’t enough against the No. 1 team for the second year in a row.
“Being the No. 1 team in the country with a senior-dominated team, they did the things necessary to win the basketball game,” Jones said. “Coming down the stretch, making plays, making huge shots at the end.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.