BATON ROUGE, La. -- A win is a win, but considering the circumstances, LSU didn’t exactly shine in its performance Saturday against Alabama.
Facing off against a Crimson Tide lineup crippled by suspensions to four of its top six scorers, the Tigers (14-10, 4-6) gutted out a 67-58 victory against their overmatched competition. But the win didn’t come before LSU allowed the Tide to rally from a 16-point halftime deficit and force some uncomfortable moments.
The win secured LSU’s best SEC record since 2009, when the Tigers won the conference. Alabama (16-8, 5-5) dropped to .500 in conference play, with a game against Florida looming.
Only time will tell if the Crimson Tide see any of their suspended players for Tuesday night’s gut-check game against the Gators. When asked about the timetable for the return of the suspended players -- Tony Mitchell, Trevor Releford, JaMychal Green or Andrew Steele -- Alabama coach Anthony Grant said he hadn’t decided.
“This was a decision that I reached last night, so I’d like to be able to take some time and think this through before I respond in terms of what’s going to happen going forward,” he said.
In the meantime, here are some quick reactions from the Tide’s short-handed loss to the Tigers.
1. Fight back: LSU entered halftime with what appeared to be the makings of a comfortable win. The Tigers led by 16 points with a 21-13 rebounding advantage. With four freshmen starting and four players suspended, Alabama looked all but done.
But that gave way to a 10-0 Crimson Tide run to open the second half. Alabama corrected its first-half malaise coming out of the locker room, out-rebounding the Tigers, 13-7, in the second period and upping its shooting from 30.4 percent to 40.7 percent down the stretch.
LSU coach Trent Johnson said the Tigers’ lack of intensity to start the second half worked against them.
“There’s a sense of complacency, there was a comfort zone, there was a cool there -- all three,” he said.
2. Cooper shines: The Crimson Tide might have been missing most of their main scoring threats, but Grant may have just found a new one.
Alabama guard Rodney Cooper made the most of the extra playing time caused by the team’s suspensions. The freshman played a total of 38 minutes on Saturday -- more than double his season average of 15.
In that time span, he spurred the Tide back from their 16-point halftime deficit with an impressive second half. Cooper led all scorers with 28 points -- a whopping 22 of those coming in the second half.
3. Hard in the paint: With Alabama missing so many bodies, the Tigers went to work and ultimately secured the win in the post.
The Crimson Tide couldn’t find an answer for LSU’s front court duo of Johnny O’Bryant III and Justin Hamilton, who scored almost at will throughout the game. The pair frequently found ways to get open against Alabama’s press defense, roaring to a combined 38 points.
Hamilton was particularly effective, going off for 21 points -- with 12 of those coming after halftime. Several of his best looks came with help from O’Bryant III, who added three assists to his 17 points and nine boards.
“Me and Johnny, in practice, we’re always working together and so today in the game we noticed they were playing high side or they were playing behind,” Hamilton said. “We found each other really well and it worked out great.”