ATHENS, Ga. — Another road game. Another nail-biter for the LSU men’s basketball team.
In what has become a regular occurrence this season, No. 19 LSU had to hang on to win a Southeastern Conference road game Saturday.
But, as the Tigers did in four of their previous six games away from home, they slipped out of town with an 83-79 win over Georgia in Stegeman Coliseum.
Down by as many as five points in the second half and by three with 11:45 to play after a Javonte Smart technical foul, LSU (21-4, 11-1 SEC) had to dig deep to hold off pesky Georgia (10-15, 1-11) for its seventh road win without a loss in league play.
Coupled with No. 1 Tennessee's 86-69 loss at Kentucky later Saturday, LSU is now tied with the Vols, who come to the Pete Maravich Assembly on Saturday, atop the league standings with six games left. Kentucky is one game back at 10-2.
Smart's technical came seconds after his 3-point shot from the top of the key tied the game at 59-59 with 12:04 to play.
As he turned and ran up the court, Smart was whistled for talking too much while running alongside Georgia’s Teshaun Hightower.
“After I scored, I was just trying to bring energy to my team,” said Smart, who is known for his trash-talking. “I wasn’t necessarily talking at him, but the referee told me the team had already been warned.”
So what did LSU coach Will Wade think of his technical?
“I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but coach liked it,” Smart said with a smile.
“I liked it,” Wade said later. “It gave us some pop … it gave us some energy.”
After Georgia’s Tyree Crump made one of two free throws following the technical, Rayshaun Hammonds hit a basket and the Bulldogs had a 62-59 lead.
At that point, LSU, which didn’t commit a turnover in the second half, went on a 23-12 run over the next 8 minutes, 45 seconds to build an eight-point lead with 2:43 left.
Smart buried another 3-pointer at the 10:21 mark to give LSU a 64-62 lead, and the Tigers never trailed again even though the Bulldogs tied the game twice in the final 10 minutes.
However, Wade’s team took control in the final six minutes and held on when Georgia made one final run and trimmed the deficit to three with 53 seconds left.
But after Naz Reid missed a jumper, Nicolas Claxton couldn’t connect with 19 seconds to play, Skylar Mays hit one of two free throws and Kavell Bigby-Williams blocked a 3-point attempt by Jordan Harris to seal the victory.
“I thought it was a terrific game,” Wade said. “Georgia played fantastic.”
Tremont Waters, who scored 16 first-half points, finished with a game-high 20, and Smart came off the bench for 19 — with nine coming in the first half when LSU took a 41-37 lead to the locker room despite eight turnovers.
“The key to us winning was we didn’t turn the ball over in the second half,” Wade said. “We had eight turnovers in the first half, which Georgia converted into some easy baskets.
“The second half, we just didn’t turn the ball over, that’s why we were able to pull it out. Like I said, Georgia played tremendously. We were very fortunate to pull it out.”
Like Wade, Waters said Smart provided his team with a much-needed spark at a crucial time.
Less than two minutes earlier, Georgia had used an 11-3 run to take a five-point lead at 58-53 with 13:54 left.
“It actually gave us some momentum,” Waters said. “Most definitely, it gave us a boost.”
Reid was another big factor.
He didn’t score in the first half while turning the ball over four times and missing three field-goal attempts. He quickly became more involved in the second half and had 13 points to go with six rebounds.
The 6-foot-10 Reid provided a big spark from the start of the half, scoring eight of LSU’s first nine points to give his team a three-point lead with 16:39 to play.
“I felt like I wasn’t producing at all,” Reid said. “I had four turnovers at halftime and I knew I had to do something. My first couple of baskets in the second half kind of sparked me.”
Claxton was a force inside, finishing with 17 points and six rebounds. Hammonds had 13 points and Harris and Derek Ogbeide added 12 each.
“I think we took Georgia lighter than we should have,” Reid said, noting they may have had extra motivation after LSU’s huge road upset of No. 5 Kentucky on Tuesday night.
“They came in and just hung in there all day.”