PISCATAWAY, N.J. — For the second straight road game, LSU shot the ball poorly but came away with a win down the stretch again in men’s college basketball Saturday night.
Trailing by a point, freshman Anthony Hickey’s runner in the lane with 40 seconds left provided the Tigers (5-3) with a lead it never lost en route to a 55-50 decision over Rutgers in the Big East/SEC Challenge before 5,534 fans at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
“Coach (Trent Johnson) just told us to stay focused and shoot with confidence,” Hickey said of his approach. “I was confident that it was going in.”
Rutgers’ Austin Johnson snapped a 49-49 tie, the seventh tie of the game, by sinking a free throw with 1:05 remaining before Hickey connected on the runner to make it 51-50. The LSU lead increased to 53-50 on a Johnny O’Bryant III breakaway dunk with 12 seconds to go on a feed from Hickey. O’Bryant closed out the scoring with two free throws with 1.4 seconds to play.
Rutgers was unable to get a shot off in its final two possessions with 1:00 to play.
The Tigers shot just 36.4 percent from the field (20-of-55), including 17.6 percent (3-of-17) from beyond the arc. In the 59-58 win over Houston on Nov. 29th, the Tigers shot 34.4 percent from the floor, but were rescued by senior forward Storm Warren’s two free throws with 1.2 seconds left.
“This was a hard-fought victory for us,” Johnson said. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well or play well at times. We managed to gut it out, and we had some guys step up and make some plays.
“Anthony (Hickey) showed a lot of courage with a couple of big baskets and good decisions. We found ways to win on the road the last two games versus two good basketball teams.”
Sophomore point guard Andre Stringer led the Tigers with 13 points and O’Bryant contributed 11. Justin Hamilton provided solid defense and a low-post presence, scoring nine points and getting three of the Tigers’ seven blocked shots.
The 7-0 Hamilton was especially effective when the Scarlet Knights big man, 6-8 Gilvydas Biruta was on the bench for the most of the second half in foul trouble and nursing a cramp in his leg.
“Going in we knew (Biruta) was a focal point of what they do,” Johnson said. “We thought we had an advantage inside with our post players. We wanted to go inside-out and make him guard for the full 40 minutes.”
Biruta, the Scarlet Knights’ leading scorer at 12.1 ppg, played just 20 minutes, scoring eight points with only three rebounds before fouling out with 4:49 to go and his team leading 48-43. The Tigers then went on a 12-2 spurt to end the game. Hamilton, Hickey and O’Bryant each contributed four points in the run.
The Tigers were fortunate to trail only 28-23 at the half despite taking some ill-advised shots that translated to a 28.6 shooting percentage from the floor. They committed more fouls (11) than they converted field goals (nine) in the first 20 minutes.
Rutgers held LSU to only one field goal over the last 6:56 of the first half, ending the stanza on a 13-5 run.
“It was not the shot selection,” Johnson said of his team’s shooting woes. “I had them in the wrong plays — in terms of their press — I wasn’t doing my job. I had them in plays we should not have been in. We made some adjustments at half and got some guys in position, changing the press breakers to be more effective.
“With all respect, it had nothing to do with them (Rutgers). It had to do with me as a coach not having the guys in the proper position. We got a better rhythm with the changes and made some plays.”
LSU is 3-0 this season when it scores less than 60 points. In addition to the wins over Rutgers and Houston, the Tigers knocked off Georgia Tech 59-50 in the Charleston Classic on Nov. 20. They shot just 32.8 percent from the floor in that game.