For the second year in a row, the LSU men’s basketball team was hit by an early barrage of 3-point baskets in its game with Auburn.
After burying 11 shots from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half of their game last January, Auburn was raining 3s down again Saturday — this time on LSU’s home floor.
But unlike last season, when Auburn never looked back, No. 21 LSU was able to recover.
LSU weathered Auburn’s 3-point storm, battling back to cut an early 16-point deficit to just three at halftime, then went on to an 83-78 win before 12,004 appreciative fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU (19-4, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) won for the 12th time in its past 13 games and remained in a second-place tie with Kentucky, which took down Mississippi State 71-67 earlier in the day.
No. 5 Kentucky and LSU, who meet in Rupp Arena on Tuesday night, are one game behind top-ranked No. 1 Tennessee after it tripped Florida 73-61 on Saturday.
The victory helped Will Wade’s team surpass its win total of a year ago, when LSU went 18-15 in his first season. Its ninth win in the conference is one more than it had in going 8-10 last season.
Auburn (16-7, 5-5) connected on 11 of 19 shots from long range in the first half, with seven coming in the first nine minutes.
“They’re a tough matchup … they play so hard, they play so fast,” Wade said. “We weren’t able to settle in. It was kind of like the game last year, we weren’t even able to settle in before they started barraging us from the 3-point line.”
That soon changed, however.
“We were able to slowly get our game plan into the game and settle in,” Wade said. “We were very fortunate to be down three at the half, and I thought at that point we could settle in and go from there.”
While Auburn cooled off, LSU went 6 of 13 from 3-point range in outscoring the visitors 45-37 in a wild second half.
LSU led 77-67 after a Naz Reid jumper with 2:40 remaining and then had to hold on. Jared Harper's 3-pointer, a 5-second call against LSU and a Chuma Okeke layup cut the lead to 79-78 with 25 seconds remaining.
But Skylar Mays hit two free throws for LSU, which then survived a wild stretch in the final seconds; Harper and Bryce Brown each missed 3-pointers sandwiched around another LSU turnover.
LSU guard Tremont Waters then hit two free throws to seal a victory that seemed unlikely at the outset.
“We pretty much always come out and get punched in the mouth and we try to turn it around,” Waters said. “We know we have it within us to withstand a 40-minute game, so we play all 40 minutes.
"When that happens, we pick up our intensity and start playing our best basketball.”
A better start to the second half was the key to that.
Waters, who had seven points and eight assists in the first half, set the tone with three 3-pointers of his own in the first five minutes to give LSU a 51-46 lead, and the Tigers never trailed again.
LSU wound up outscoring the visitors in the paint 38-18. It also won the battle on the backboards 47-35 — with a 22-7 edge on the offensive glass that helped them outscore Auburn 29-1 in second-chance points — and racked up 31 points off 19 Auburn turnovers.
“We were able to slowly impose our will,” Wade said. “We got a couple 3s to fall in the second half, which helped us.”
In the end, LSU’s rebounding was more of a factor.
“We knew the focus tonight was second-chance points for LSU, to keep them off the boards,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We didn’t do a very good job of that. A lack of physicality was a factor, but give LSU all the credit. They just threw us out of the way and killed us on the boards.”
Mays led LSU with 20 points, while Waters had a double-double with 19 points and 10 assists. Reid added 13 points.
Kavell Bigby-Williams and Reid controlled the backboards in helping pile up a 24-15 advantage in the second half after holding a slim 23-20 edge in the first half.
Bigby-Williams had a team-high 11 rebounds and Reid pulled down 10 to complete his third double-double of the season.
“They have great size underneath,” Pearl said. “They just have great size … they have two monsters down there.”
On top of its dominant rebounding, LSU did a much better job on Auburn’s long-range shooting in the second half.
“We took better care of the ball (in the second half), but we didn’t execute or shoot as well,” Pearl said. “LSU extended (its defense) a little bit more; they weren’t letting us catch it a bit sooner.”
Reid said LSU emerged from halftime determined to play better.
“We were just more aggressive and found the shooters,” Reid said. “Coach Wade talked about in the locker room, to keep playing with intensity.”
Auburn got 25 points from Harper, while Okeke finished with 12 points to go with a game-high 13 rebounds.
Brown, who was shooting 41.1 percent from deep for the season and 48.7 percent in conference play, was just 3 of 7 — 1 of 5 in the second half.
He finished with 11 points, as did Anfernee McLemore, who knocked down Auburn’s first two 3s to start the barrage in the first three minutes.
“Our defense was better in the second half,” Wade said. “I thought we made enough plays to win the game.”