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February 12, 2012If any team deserved some good fortune, it was the LSU basketball team.
The Tigers got a break Saturday afternoon when three Alabama players, including starters JaMychal Green and Trevor Releford, were sent back to Tuscaloosa for a violation of team rules.
With the suspension last weekend of Tony Mitchell, LSU faced a Crimson Tide team, which was without its top three scorers. It was no blowout victory, but the Tigers came away with a 67-59 victory against Alabama at the PMAC on Saturday night.
"It's a good win for us," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "Any win that we can get throughout the year is a good win. It's hard to win in college basketball. I know the last two years I've had my share of injuries."
Johnson was informed of the suspension of Green, Releford and Andrew Steele in mid-afternoon. Alabama was missing four players, who were averaging a combined 45.4 points per game. The Crimson Tide starters Saturday were averaging a combined 22.7 points per game.
Johnson told Justin Hamilton and Chris Bass before the game to make sure their teammates were still focused on the task at hand, albeit against a short-handed Alabama team.
"I didn't make reference to Alabama before the game to the players," Johnson said. "I just made reference to what I believe and what I talk about all the time. It's competition. You respect your opponent.
"Shame on you if you treat somebody different than who you might think the best player may be. Somebody on that team is going to have an opportunity to step up and play. It's not about who they didn't have. It's always going to be about our approach to a game in terms of competing."
Alabama (16-8, 5-5) had one player in particular step up - freshman post player Rodney Cooper. It was Cooper, who led a Crimson Tide rally at the outset of the second half. Cooper scored 10 of his game-high 26 points as Alabama went on a 12-0 run which reduced its deficit to four points at 31-27.
"I didn't like our body language at the start of the second half," Johnson said. "We were complacent, comfortable, cool. But, that's what happens when you deal with young kids. But, we played through the adversity. The players kept their composure."
LSU (14-10, 4-6) never saw its advantage fall under three points during the second half. But, the Tigers, who had a 16-point halftime lead, never went ahead by double digits again until a Johnny O'Bryant basket put them up 63-52 with 32 seconds remaining in the game.
Hamilton and O'Bryant, LSU's two post players, carried the scoring load after Alabama pulled within four points at 31-27. Hamilton and O'Bryant combined for all but 12 of the Tigers' final 36 points. Hamilton scored 12 of his 21 points in that stretch. O'Bryant scored 12 of his 17 points during that time.
"I just wanted to stay as aggressive as possible," said O'Bryant, who also grabbed nine rebounds. "I got into foul trouble against Vanderbilt and didn't play much. I wanted to stay aggressive tonight. Justin did a great job ducking and sealing, so I got him the ball. He did a great job on the low block."
O'Bryant, who had three assists and one steal, was 5-of-9 from the field and 7-of-9 from the foul line. He had four offensive rebounds. Hamilton, who had six rebounds, was 9-of-12 from the field and 3-of-3 at the foul line.
"That was the best all year that Johnny and Justin played together," Johnson said. "We were very, very good on the high-low looks. Johnny is starting to understand the nuances of the game - setting screens and cutting hard."
Another player who played well for the Tigers was Andre Stringer, who finished with 15 points. Stringer was 5-of-11 from the field and ended a 0-for-18 drought on 3-pointers early in the game. Stringer did miss four of his five 3-point attempts.
"It was very big for me to score some points," Stringer said. "I had a chance to see some shots go in. I hadn't seen that the past few games. I tried to get into the paint and make something happen with my teammates."
Stringer had a couple of assists and was 4-of-5 at the foul line. Anthony Hickey only scored four points as he took just two field goal attempts. However, Hickey had five assists and one turnover in 30 minutes. Ralston Turner had another tentative night offensively with only two points in 34 minutes.
With O'Bryant and Hamilton playing so well, Strom Warren saw just nine minutes of action. He had two points and one rebound. John Isaac contributed six points in ten minutes. However, a couple of turnovers against Alabama's press ended his time on the floor early in the second half.
LSU shot 49 percent from the field thanks to O'Bryant and Hamilton. The Tigers, who played a zone for most of the game, allowed the Tide to shoot 41 percent from the floor. Both teams had 13 turnovers. However, Alabama got 16 points off the turnovers as compared to nine for LSU.
With the victory - its first against one of the supposed top five teams in the Southeastern Conference, LSU remained in ninth place. However, the Tigers trail four teams tied for fifth - Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Tennessee - by just one game. LSU will play host to Mississippi State on Tuesday.
"I remembered what happened in the game at Alabama," Hamilton said. "I wanted to play better. I found out (about the suspensions) while I was getting dressed. I saw it on ESPN. All that matters is that it was a 'W.' We just wanted to take this one and then move on to Mississippi State."