HOUSTON - In three losses earlier this month, the LSU men’s basketball team had problems holding onto the lead in the second half.
On Tuesday night against the University of Houston, the Tigers played the opposite role, overcoming a double-digit deficit of their own for an exciting 59-58 victory in front of 4,257 fans at the Hofheinz Pavilion.
Storm Warren hit two free throws with 1.2 seconds left and a desperation half-court shot by Houston missed at the buzzer, completing an 11-point comeback by the Tigers.
“We stuck together and fought together as a team and came through in the end,” Warren said.
As for the last second free-throws: “I just had to concentrate and not listen to the crowd. Just take my time,” Warren said. “We shoot enough free throws in practice. I just stayed with my same routine and the shots fell through.”
Just before that, Houston took a 58-57 lead with 9.1 seconds left on a Jonathon Simmons tip-in.
The Tigers immediately called timeout and drew up a play for freshman Anthony Hickey to drive the full distance of the court. Hickey missed a tough layup, but Warren was there for the rebound and was fouled by TaShawn Thomas.
“We wanted to get the ball back to Anthony,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “He is quick with the ball and he got in the lane. Then Storm - two free throws - he needed to make those. And he did.”
“We knew it was going to be a possession by possession in the second half, and if we didn’t execute, they could run us out of here. We adjusted and I thought our execution down the stretch was good.”
The Tigers (4-3) had four players in double figures, led by Andre Stringer, who had 13 points. Warren and Ralston Turner each finished with 12, while Justin Hamilton had 11.
“We lost a couple of games where we were up early and we didn’t hold it,” Stringer said. “Today, we wanted to sustain our intensity, and we defended well in the second half and things worked out pretty well for us.
“We came into a hostile environment, and this kind of win is going to definitely help us down the stretch in the SEC.”
Alandise Harris led the Cougars (3-3) with a game-high 21 points, while Thomas had 13 points and eight rebounds. UH has now lost three straight games by a total of four points.
“I have to do a better job of getting through to these guys and coaching in close situations,” Houston coach James Dickey said. “We are four points away. There’s a small area there, and we have to be more efficient late in the game.”
The Tigers shot just 27.5 percent in the second half, after shooting 45.8 percent in the first half. The difference, however, was the offensive rebounds, as the Tigers finished with a 14-1 advantage in the second half.
Hamilton and Johnny O’Bryant III each led the team with seven rebounds, five each on the offensive side.
“We knew we had a size advantage and they were a little quicker,” Hamilton said. “So, we wanted to take advantage of our size. We were able to get it inside and I was able to go to work a little bit.”
The Tigers trailed 42-34 with 15:35 left in the second half, but went on a 12-2 run over the next three minutes to grab a 46-44 lead. Stringer started the scoring with a 3-pointer, while Warner had four points during the stretch.
LSU also cut down on its mistakes in the second half, turning the ball over just five times in the final 20 minutes after losing it 12 times in the first half.
“Coach came in and talked about the turnovers we made,” Turner said. “We had a lot of time left. He said just stay the course and take it possession by possession.”
In the end, it came down to one possession and into the hands of a senior at the free-throw line. Warren had started every game this season, but came off the bench Tuesday.
“We have 10 guys that can go at anytime and coach can change the lineup at any time - that is his decision,” Warren said. “I’m just going to play my part and play my role when I’m on the floor and that’s what I did tonight.”