NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After learning the hard way, no one has to tell the LSU men’s basketball team that failing to put a team away when it has the opportunity can become a problem.
It has happened three times to the Tigers since Southeastern Conference play began earlier this month, even though they managed to salvage one of the games that got away late — edging Georgia in double overtime.
For once, the shoe was on the other foot Saturday night.
A Vanderbilt team returning home desperate for a victory after losing four in a row in conference play led LSU for nearly 30 minutes of game time and didn’t relinquish the lead for a 25-minute span late in the first half and throughout the second. But the Commodores couldn’t quite put the Tigers away in regulation before falling 79-75 in overtime, much to the dismay of more than 9,300 in Memorial Gymnasium.
When Vanderbilt couldn’t finish the job, LSU did after a miserable first half on both ends of the floor led to a 35-30 halftime deficit.
LSU shot just 36.4 percent in the first half, making just 1 of 7 on 3-pointers, but the Tigers found their range in the second half and in overtime.
The Tigers shot 60.0 percent in the second half, tying the score at 69 at the end of regulation after trailing by eight points with 17:25 to play, then connected on 50.0 percent in overtime.
“We just try to stay up on each other,” freshman guard Jalyn Patterson said after scoring 10 points and adding three assists. “Even if we miss a shot, it’s OK; we just try to play the whole game. We keep fighting, and luckily we started hitting some shots toward the end.”
Combined with tighter defense, LSU did what it didn’t do in the first half, when Vanderbilt got 16 points from 7-foot forward Luke Kornet.
The Tigers had no answer for Kornet, who burned them for a couple of uncontested layups and two 3-pointers late in the first half, before a halftime adjustment slowed him down. He scored six points in the second half.
“He’s a good basketball player,” LSU guard Tim Quarterman said. “He hit a couple of shots and got off early. They were good, contested shots; he just him them. We had to dig deep to stop him.”
They also had to stop guard Wade Baldwin IV, who was 4-of-4 from beyond the arc to score 18 points, and center Damian Jones, a Baton Rouge native who had 13 points despite early foul trouble that limited him to 27 minutes.
Vanderbilt’s offense started sputtering after it scored 11 points in the first 3½ minutes of the second half and held a 46-39 lead. But it managed just 29 points over the next 21½ minutes — including overtime.
While the offense did its job, LSU didn’t allow a 3-pointer in the final 17:35 of the game, and Vanderbilt was just 13-of-32 from the field in the second half and overtime.
“The (3-point defense) was a big focus,” Quarterman said. “They had a big first half and came at us. We wanted to run them off the (3-point) line and make them go inside or make their guys penetrate.”
The Commodores still had two chances to win. But LSU’s defense disrupted a long shot by Riley LaChance at the buzzer in regulation, and Shelton Mitchell couldn’t get a shot to go down with 4 seconds left in overtime that could have sent it to a second extra period.
When Mitchell missed, Jarell Martin secured the rebound and dropped in two free throws with 3.6 seconds left, allowing LSU to escape.
“It was very intense,” Patterson said. “I don’t know why, but I always thought we were going to win.”
This time, they did.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.