Jacksonville Sports Day

SEC: LSU to Play for Title Saturday after One-Point OT Win at UF

Photo by Courtney Culbreath

GAINESVILLE, Fla.  – The No. 10 LSU Tigers will play for a Southeastern Conference championship Saturday night after finishing its road schedule 9-0 with a 79-78 win in overtime over Florida Wednesday night at the Exactech Center at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

“Total team effort,” said LSU coach Will Wade, whose team played its seventh overtime game of the year (winning its fifth) and finished unbeaten on the SEC road. “It’s kind of what we’ve done all year.”

The Tigers are now 25-5 and 15-2 in the SEC, tied with Tennessee for first place going into the final day of league play on Saturday. Tennessee is at Auburn and LSU hosts Vanderbilt in the final SEC game of the regular season.

Both teams will be named champions if they tie, but LSU has the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament, which begins March 13 in Nashville.

“All you can do is continue to preach that everyone who gets between those lines needs to be aggressive, execute at a high level and take the shots the defense gives us,” ssUF coach Mike White. “I talk to these guys about having agendas. Sometimes it’s the selfish agenda, but sometimes it’s the passive agenda, and the confidence agenda. Those things shouldn’t be going through your mind. If you’re open, shoot it.”

LSU can win the league outright with a Tiger win and a Tennessee loss. If both teams happen to lose, Kentucky could still make it a three-way championship with a win, but again LSU has all the tiebreakers in that situation.

The LSU-Vanderbilt game is officially sold out.

LSU on Wednesday became the third team in the present 18-game league schedule (since 2013) to go 9-0 in the SEC on the road joining Kentucky (2015) and Florida in 2014. The Tigers broke a tie with the 1981 LSU team that won its first eight SEC games for the previous school road win mark in the SEC in a season.

In what has become an almost typical story for LSU, the Tigers rallied again in the second half to win. This time LSU trailed by eight with 6:15 to play in regulation, 62-54. But LSU evened the game in less than 80 seconds as Skylar Mays hit a three-pointer, Emmitt Williams got a put back dunk and Javonte Smart his a trey that tied the game at 62-62 with 5:03 to play.

After a Florida turnover, LSU would take the lead on a bucket by Tremont Waters.

LSU remained with the lead down the stretch in regulation, up 70-67 with 1:37 to play on a tip-in by Waters. Jalen Hudson’s dunk with 29 seconds left put the Gators within one at 70-69.

“I’m sad,” Hudson said after going 11-for-21 from the floor, 4-for-9 from the 3-point arc, seven of eight from free-throw line and over one 15-minute stretch in the second half and into overtime scored 27 of his team’s 30 points. “I gave it all I had. I wanted to go out with a win. It’s just a tough loss.”

Florida fouled Mays, an 86 percent free throw shooter, with 28.6 seconds to play, but the junior missed the front end of a one-and-one and Florida had a chance. Out of a timeout, the Gators found Hudson for a three-pointer and a 72-70 lead.

The ball ended up in Waters hands as LSU elected to play on and he drove for the bucket and scored with 0.5 remaining on the clock to tie the game at 72-70 and force the overtime.

In the overtime, Smart’s jumper and a three-pointer by Waters on back-to-back possession gave the Tigers the 77-72 advantage with just 59 seconds off the five minute extra session. Hudson would score to make it 77-74.

LSU’s Naz Reid would get LSU’s final points of the game at the 3:09 mark of overtime to give LSU a 79-74 advantage.

Andrew Nembhard had a bucket and Kevarrius Hayes at two free throws to make it 79-78 in favor of the Tigers with still 2:22 to play.

The teams each missed scoring opportunities twice on both ends before Mays got the defensive rebound off a missed shot with 38 seconds to play. LSU came down, but Mays missed a contested layup giving Florida the ball with 17 seconds left. The Gators elected to call timeout with eight seconds remaining.

But out of the timeout, the Tigers had their defense in good shape and the Gators were not able to get a shot off before the final horn, sending Florida to its second straight home defeat and allow LSU to avenge the Gators win in overtime in Baton Rouge.

Waters led LSU with 19 points, six assists and three steals (8-16 field goals, two treys), while Smart had 15 points and three assists. Williams, in his home state, came off the bench to score 13 points and have 14 rebounds (seven offensive) in 27 minutes. Mays added 11 points.

Hudson had 33 points, hitting 11-of-20 field goals with four treys, while Keyontae Johnson had 15 points and Noah Locke 10.

LSU shot 43.1 percent for the game (31-of-72) with six treys and 11-of-16 at the free throw line. Florida was 26-of-58 with nine treys and for one of the few times this year, more free throws made than LSU attempted. The Gators made 17-of-25 for the game.

The Tigers out rebounded Florida, 46-36 and 20-11 on the offensive glass. LSU had a 44-26 advantage in points in the paint and 20-8 in second chance points.

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