LSU suffers another disappointing loss, this time to Auburn _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU Tigers guard Josh Gray (5) drives past Auburn Tigers guard K.C. Ross-Miller (12), Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

A reeling Auburn basketball team played with an edge Thursday night and LSU didn’t.

Coming off a disappointing loss at Mississippi State on Saturday, LSU had an opportunity to get a three-game homestand off to a rousing start with a victory against a team that had lost all four of its Southeastern Conference road games.

But LSU had no answer for Auburn’s stellar guard play in dropping an 81-77 decision before 8,672 stunned fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Auburn got 28 points from KT Harrell and 24 from Antoine Mason, two-thirds of its three-guard lineup, to dance off with the big upset. Rugged forward Cinmeon Bowers also did his part with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

LSU (16-6, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) played from behind most of the night, especially in the second half when Auburn (11-11, 3-6 SEC) kept the pressure on with its solid guard play.

“We wasted a great opportunity tonight. … We played a team that had several losses in a row in the conference,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “They came in and played desperately looking for an opportunity to win. They played with an edge.

“We allowed them to get comfortable and make plays, execute, make shots and become a confident team,” he said. “I thought we played too comfortable on the floor. Because of our comfort level, they became a very confident team.”

As a result, Jones indicated changes are coming — and coming quickly — for his team with Alabama visiting the Maravich Center on Saturday afternoon followed three nights later by undefeated and top-ranked Kentucky.

“We put ourselves in a tough spot,” a bewildered Jones said of his team’s third loss to a team wallowing around the conference cellar. “(Friday) in practice, we have to make sure we address that. Because of some of the success we had early, we thought these guys may have been growing up.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got to change some of our habits and the way we do things to make sure that we keep their attention.”

LSU, which led only twice in the second half, had a chance to tie the game twice in the final 11.5 seconds but could not get the job done after holding a two-point advantage with 8:27 left and a one-point lead at 73-72 on two Tim Quarterman free throws with 1:19 remaining.

But on the ensuing trip down the floor, Mason fed Bowers to help Auburn regain the lead with 1:03 to play and the visitors never trailed again. Mason and Harrell combined to hit 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

Guard Josh Gray missed the back end of a two-shot free-throw opportunity with his team trailing 77-76, and, after getting the ball back on a turnover with 2 seconds to play and down 79-77, LSU tossed away its final opportunity on an inbounds play under its own basket when Keith Hornsby tried to lob the ball over the defense to Jordan Mickey.

“It was a tough pass with a guy (Mason) in front of me,” Hornsby said. “I looked for a bounce pass first, but I didn’t have a good angle and then tried to go over the top. But he picked it off.”

Fittingly, Mason knocked down a pair of free throws with 1 second remaining to provide Auburn with its four-point margin of victory.

Jones said LSU had “four or five” turnovers trying to inbound the ball, which was a factor in the game’s outcome and undoubtedly will be another point of emphasis in practice.

“We’ve got to find somebody that is a confident passer from out of bounds and make sure we can trigger the right play,” he said. “We have guys holding on to the ball for too long, while guys are getting open. We’re just not making the play, and we’re a little bit hesitant.”

Mickey had 23 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots in the loss, while Jarell Martin had 14 points and 16 rebounds. But they combined for 11 of the team’s 15 turnovers.

Quarterman had 17 points and Hornsby had 11. But they, along with Gray and Jalyn Patterson, couldn’t overcome the sterling play of Harrell and Mason.

They were 13 of 25 from the field, including 8 of 13 from beyond the 3-point line, and made 18 of 22 free throws.

“I thought down at the end (of the game), we had to go to Antoine and we had to go to KT,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “They were making plays and they had the hot hands.”

“I think they (Harrell and Mason) took a lot of tough shots and they made a lot of tough shots,” Quarterman said. “They also ran a lot of good ball screens to get them free and they got to the free-throw line a lot.”

As a result, Auburn controlled the tempo and led for 32 minutes of the 40-minute contest. LSU’s biggest lead of the night was only three points.

“Down the stretch, they executed and made the necessary plays they needed to,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, in this game, you can’t turn it on and off.

“You have to get it from start to finish, play every second of every play and have an edge about you,” he added. “When you don’t, bad things are going to happen to you. We got treated to that tonight.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.