BATON ROUGE, La. — Just like the LSU football team before it, the LSU basketball team hung with Alabama until late in the second half. Then its defense just gave out.
After one of the most impressive first halves the team has turned in all season, LSU struggled to find offensive or defensive consistency in the second half Saturday, losing to rival Alabama 81-66. The loss dropped the Tigers to 9-7 on the season and 1-4 in SEC play.
LSU turned in one of its best defensive performances of the season in the first half, holding Alabama to 28 percent shooting from the field and 21 percent from 3-point range. LSU headed into halftime leading 33-28 after bullying the Tide in the paint, outscoring them 22-6 down low in the first 20 minutes.
“Defensively, I thought the zone helped us in the first half because it really kept them off balance,” LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones said. “But they did a good job in the second half of attacking the zone and we had to go back to man.”
The game went back and forth for most of the second half until Alabama seized control late. Alabama’s Riley Norris provided the dagger, sinking two 3-point shots in 29 seconds to give the Tide a 6-point lead with just over four minutes remaining. Alabama shot 51.6 percent from the floor in the second half and 50 percent on 3-pointers.
“I thought mentally, physically, they were in tune with this basketball game,” Jones said. “For the first 34 or 35 minutes, they were there. Unfortunately, some untimely plays for us as far as team turnovers leading to fast-break points for us. 18 turnovers, 25 points off of turnovers, thought that was the difference for us tonight.”
Junior forward Duop Reath led the way for LSU, finishing with 12 points and 9 rebounds. As a team, LSU struggled from deep, finishing 5-for-16 from beyond the 3-point line and scoring only 32 total points outside the paint.
Player of the Game: Duop Reath
Since he was on the court for as long as he was, Reath’s +/- grade of -20 is a bit misleading. In 32 minutes of play, Reath led the Tigers in both points and rebounds, plus he finished with 3 blocks and 2 assists.
With 1:00 left in the game, sophomore guard and leading scorer Antonio Blakeney went down with what appeared to be an ankle injury. He did not return for the rest of the game.
After the game, Jones said he had no update on Blakeney’s health status but could confirm that Blakeney was in the training room working with team doctors.
Stat of the Game: Turnover percentage
LSU turned the ball over on an astounding 24.3 percent of its possessions Saturday, or just under one out of every four times it touched the ball. Nine different Tigers committed a turnover, five of which gave the ball away multiple times.
“A couple times there late in the 2-3 zone, they jumped it and they trapped it when we tried to get the ball to the wings,” Jones said of LSU’s turnover rate.
In total, LSU turned the ball over 18 times, three short of the Tigers’ season-high mark of 21 turnovers versus Old Dominion in November.
With a little over seven minutes left in the second half, LSU held a 54-52 lead. Blakeney had the ball stolen from him and Alabama came down the court and hit a 3-pointer, giving the Tide the lead back.
On LSU’s next possession following the turnover and 3-pointer, Blakeney turned the ball over again, this time on an errant pass. Alabama made its way to the free-throw line and converted on one shot on its ensuing possession.
LSU never regained the lead after this sequence.
What’s next for LSU basketball?
The Tigers embark on a mini road trip next, playing two straight on the road before returning home. On Wednesday, LSU faces off against Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers. The game is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on the SEC Network. LSU then heads to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas next Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network).