BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Once again Thursday night, the LSU basketball team found itself on the short end of the score at halftime of a game — this time against UAB.
But for the fourth time in five opportunities, the Tigers found a way to extricate themselves and pull out a victory.
This time, LSU combined a hot-shooting second half with a bothersome 2-3 defense that helped them take a 79-70 win over UAB in Bartow Arena after the Tigers trailed by 11 points twice and also by 10 in the first 20 minutes.
The switch from his usual man-to-man defense to the zone look with just more than seven minutes to play in the first half sparked coach Johnny Jones’ team, which trailed by 28-20 at that point.
UAB, which was getting some easy looks from the high-post area, was slowed a little and scored just 11 points the rest of the first half. At the same time, LSU shook off some early shooting woes and managed to cut the deficit to 39-33 by halftime.
“We had to make sure we were matching up and trying to get to their shooters,” Jones said. “They had two shooters on the floor, but they also had some post guys that were able to step out and execute and knock down some shots as well, which really stretched us out defensively.”
Guard Robert Brown, UAB’s leading scorer, had eight of his 20 points in the first half and forwards William Lee and C.J. Washington had eight and seven points, respectively.
“(The zone) kind of helped take away their shooters,” LSU forward Jordan Mickey said. “They had two bona fide shooters in there, but they had to work for their shots in the second half. I believe it worked for us and we were able to get some stops.”
“Coach (Jones) told us to get up in our man,” said freshman guard Jalyn Patterson, who helped fill in for injured point guard Josh Gray. “Even though we were in a 2-3 zone, he told us to not let them score. They were coming at us in the high-post area, so we had to take that away.”
Sufficiently motivated by the switch to the zone and a talk from Jones after reaching the locker room at halftime, LSU started the second half on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 39-all.
The Tigers then got quick baskets from Mickey and Tim Quarterman, who both missed all five of their field-goal attempts in the opening half as the Tigers shot only 35.5 percent from the field. Their field goals were sandwiched around one by Jarell Martin to help get the offense going.
After tying the game, LSU overpowered UAB to take a 10-point lead twice by the midway point of the second half on its way to securing the victory.
Playing without Gray, who sprained his right ankle in Saturday night’s win over Sam Houston State, LSU (8-2) outscored UAB 48-34 in the final 22 minutes of the game to claim its fifth consecutive win.
Martin poured in 25 points, just one off his career high, and guard Keith Hornsby fired in 22 points, his highest-scoring game in an LSU uniform, to help quell an early surge by UAB (4-7) when the Blazers shot 51.5 percent from the floor.
Mickey finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and a career-tying seven blocked shots, while Patterson contributed a career-high 11 points.
LSU shot just 35.5 percent from the field in the first half, making 11 of 31 shots.
In the second half, ignited by Jones’ first technical since taking over the program in 2012, the Tigers shot 56.7 percent in connecting on 17 of 30 from the floor. Conversely, UAB shot 37.5 percent in the second half.
Jones was called for a technical by lead official Tom Eades at the 17:23 mark of the second half, which helped UAB regain the lead at 42-39 after LSU tied it.
That was the biggest lead UAB could muster in the second half as Mickey worked inside for a basket and Patterson and Hornsby buried back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 47-44 with 15:05 to play.
The Tigers led by 10 three times in the final 10:05 even though UAB did get within three at 65-62 with 6:47 left as LSU closed it out with the big second half.
“We just came in together (after the technical) and told each other we could turn this thing around,” said Hornsby, who was 8 of 15 from the floor. “Coach was fired up and we were going to battle for him. That’s exactly what we did.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.