MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With a nine-day break coming up for concentrated study period and final exams, the LSU basketball team had one final piece of business to attend to on the court Thursday night.
Before the exams began, LSU faced the biggest test on its schedule to date: a showdown on the road with unbeaten and 16th-ranked West Virginia in a game that was part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
To be sure, a big challenge was what LSU faced after West Virginia used a 25-5 run that spanned the end of the first half and first two minutes of the second half to take a 52-38 lead with 18:07 remaining.
But exactly 18 minutes after LSU faced its largest deficit of the game, Tigers point guard Josh Gray scored on a driving layup with 7.4 seconds to play to give his team a shocking 74-73 victory over the Mountaineers.
LSU (6-2) actually took the lead twice in the final minute, the first time on a clutch 3-point basket by guard Keith Hornsby with 30 seconds remaining, and the second when Gray eluded West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip with the help of forward Jordan Mickey.
Gray, who was benched early in the second half by coach Johnny Jones after committing his seventh turnover in 21 minutes of playing time, got a screen from Mickey near the top of the key and blew past Phillip toward the rim.
After breaking free, the 6-foot-1 Gray elevated and gently laid the ball off the glass and into the basket to shock a crowd of 10,802 in WVU Coliseum.
Out of timeouts, West Virginia (7-1) pushed the ball up the floor and had two chances to overcome Gray’s bucket.
But Juwan Staten’s 16-foot jumper from the left wing bounced off the rim and a couple of tip-in attempts by the Mountaineers also came up short.
The final buzzer went off as players from both teams scrambled for the loose ball with LSU’s Jalyn Patterson finally corralling the rebound that sent the Tigers home with a win.
“Pretty much, coach Jones just told me to flatten out the floor, call out the big man (Mickey) and do what I do best,?? said Gray, a capable scorer who prefers the role of setting up his teammates from his point guard position. “That’s what I did.
“I just feel like I can get in the lane at will, and that’s what I did,” he added. “It opened up and just so happened that I had a wide-open layup.”
What made the win even more impressive is that LSU had to do it with Mickey, its leading scorer and rebounder, spending 18 minutes of the first half on the bench with two fouls and fellow forward Jarell Martin taking a seat in the second half with foul trouble before fouling out with 26 seconds left.
“I knew they (West Virginia) wasn’t going to stop playing and we were just fortunate that our guys didn’t either,” Jones said.
It was the first road win for LSU over a ranked opponent since it came into the same building and posted a 71-68 win over West Virginia on Nov. 26, 2005.
Tim Quarterman came off the bench to score a career-high 21 points to lead LSU, while had 18 points and 14 rebounds. Hornsby had 15 points and Gray totaled seven points and seven assists.
“When you’re playing in an environment like this, with great fans, (it’s) loud, and against a very tough basketball team, it’s big,” Jones said. “In that close of a basketball game, the guys were still poised enough to make plays under pressure.
“To make those plays shows that our young team is showing some growth.”