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March 14, 2013

Unlikely player keeps LSU alive

LSU needed someone to step up in its second-round Southeastern Conference tournament game against Georgia on Thursday afternoon.

The three players who have taken turns leading the Tigers the past two months - Johnny O'Bryant, Anthony Hickey and Charles Carmouche - all struggled against the Bulldogs.

But, Shavon Coleman was there to bail out LSU. Coleman scored 24 points and made a game-saving defensive play as the Tigers held off Georgia 68-63 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

Coleman, who had to deal with an upset stomach for most of the game, made nine of his 11 field goal attempts, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. In 29 regular-season games, Coleman made just nine of 36 3-point attempts.

In order to match up with the smaller Bulldogs, coach Johnny Jones inserted Coleman in the starting lineup in place of Andrew Del Piero. Coleman, who had scored in double figures just five times in 18 SEC games, answered the call.

The same could not be said of O'Bryant, Hickey and Carmouche. O'Bryant had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. However, he missed 11 of his 14 field goal attempts and 11 of his 17 foul shots. O'Bryant's missed free throws down the stretch enabled Georgia to reduce its deficit.

Hickey scored just three points. He did have five assists and no turnovers, but he was really not a factor Thursday afternoon. Carmouche was still feeling the effects of his fall against Ole Miss last Saturday. He scored only seven points and struggled when defending Kentavious-Caldwell Pope in the second half.

LSU played textbook basketball in building a 39-19 halftime lead. Coleman knocked down a couple of treys to give the Tigers an early 12-4 lead. His dunk put LSU on top 25-13. But, Coleman didn't score when the Tigers went on a 12-0 run to take a 37-15 lead.

Carmouche and Jalen Courtney combined for ten of those 12 points. Carmouche made his only three baskets of the game during that time. Courtney also had a couple of baskets after offensive rebounds - his only points of the day.

It appeared that the Tigers were going to cruise to a victory in the second half. Coleman scored seven of LSU's first ten second-half points as it built a 49-28 advantage. With 12:59 remaining, Coleman converted a four-point play - a 3-pointer and resulting free throw - to push the Tigers ahead 53-36.

But then, SEC Player of the Year Caldwell-Pope nearly singlehandedly rallied the Bulldogs. Caldwell-Pope made 25 of his career-high 32 points in the second half. Meanwhile, LSU made only seven second-half field goals - five by Coleman and two by Andre Stringer.

The Tigers went eight minutes without a basket in the second half. Stringer was the one player who gave Coleman some help down the stretch. Stringer, who did a very good job defending Caldwell-Pope in the first half, made a 3-pointer to give LSU a 66-61 lead with 35 seconds to play.

But, missed free throws by O'Bryant left the door open for Georgia. The Bulldogs had one last possession to tie the score. Stringer, who was guarding Caldwell-Pope, was screened. Coleman switched men and jumped out on Caldwell-Pope, who missed the potential game-tying trey.

Stringer grabbed the rebound and sank the two free throws to clinch the victory which sends the Tigers to a quarterfinal-round game against SEC champion Florida on Friday afternoon.

The game was similar to LSU's victory against Arkansas a few weeks ago. The Tigers jumped out to a 20-plus point advantage and had to hang on for the victory. Caldwell-Pope, who will probably give up his final two seasons at Georgia for the NBA, was simply outstanding.

As was the case a year ago, LSU will face the SEC champion in the quarterfinals. Last March, the Tigers gave Kentucky all it wanted before losing by nine points. This LSU squad needs to do the same against Florida in order to have a chance of receiving a NIT bid.

The Tigers must have all hands on deck if they are going to have a shot at competing with the Gators. LSU lost by 22 points to Florida at the PMAC in the second game of the SEC season.



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