Mar 6, 2019; Gainesville, FL, USA; LSU Tigers guard Javonte Smart (1) drives to the basket as Florida Gators forward Keyontae Johnson (11) defends during the first half at Exactech Arena

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LSU escapes Florida with critical OT win

The Tigers are back on top the SEC standings

Seth Dunlap
March 06, 2019 - 8:43 pm
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The LSU basketball team is making a habit of playing in overtime games.  They're also making a habit out of winning them.  LSU won for the fifth time in seven games played into the extra period, outlasting the Florida Gators 79-78 in front of a hostile crowd in Gainesville.   The win keeps the Tigers on pace with Tennessee for the SEC regular season title, both teams now with identical 15-2 conference records with one game to play.  

Like many of LSU's victories this season, you can shape your view of this win depending on which lens you view it through: that LSU defeated a team on the road that had beaten them just a couple of weeks ago, or that they nearly bumbled away what should have been a relatively easy win late in regulation.

Here are a few of my post game thoughts.

LSU's resiliency triumphs again:  It's the theme of the Tigers' season: Resiliency.  The Tigers found themselves trailing by eight points with a handful of minutes left and rallied to take a lead.  They would again find themselves trailing with under 10 seconds left (see below), and somehow willed themselves to a win.  The fight, grit, and never give up attitude this team has shown matters more than any specific issues they are having late in games.  Somebody once said winning cures everything.  They were right.

Late miscues haunt LSU again: This game shouldn't have even gone to overtime.  Heard that one before?  With under 40 seconds left and LSU up by three, Tremont Waters decided to force a dribble into traffic and summarily had it stolen away.  That's another critical late-game turnover by Waters, something he's done too much this season considering how talented he is -- remember, he's a Bob Cousy Award finalist for best point guard in the country. Later, with LSU clinging to a one point lead with 28 second left, Skylar Mays, an 86% free throw shooter on the season, missed the front end of a one-and-one with under a minute left.  Florida capitalized on these mistakes and forced overtime, albeit with Waters redeeming himself a bit with a coast-to-coast drive and lay in as time expired to save LSU a regulation loss.

Perimeter defense issues:  The Tigers allowed Jalen Hudson to slice, dice, and shoot his way to a 33 point effort.  Hudson came in averaging just 13.7 points per game on the season.  LSU had had issues at times this season in defending elite guards who can score either off the dribble or from the perimeter.  Hudson certainly fits that bill, or at least did tonight.  The lack of a true lock-down perimeter defender could spell trouble when the NCAA Tournament arrives.

Point-forward, Naz Reid:  OK, technically Waters was still getting the offense into their sets in the second half, but it was Reid who touched the ball on nearly every possession until his exit late in overtime after getting smacked in the face.  Reid was hounded with double teams, and sometimes triple teams, all night and he didn't look comfortable or completely effective in this role.  He finished with just nine points and one assist.  If you're touching the ball on every possession, you must be a better facilitator than that.  Or at least be scoring a boatload of points.  Another "teachable moment" that coach Will Wade loves to use with his young team.

Will Wade gets tricky, and it backfires:  With the Gators coming out of a timeout with 23 second left, Wade decided to put the Tigers in a 1-3-1 zone.  It was interesting decision, especially considering how Hudson has seemingly scored at will in the second half.  The zone defense seemed to catch the Gators offguard initially, but it wound up leading to a wide open Hudson three pointer.  He nailed it, and almost sealed the Tigers' fate.

One more win:  LSU just needs one more win, against conference punching-bag Vanderbilt, this weekend to secure at least a tie of the SEC regular season crown and the #1 seed into the conference tournament next week.  The Commodores are winless (0-16) in conference play, and are unlikely to put up much of a fight against the Tigers.  Still, LSU has sometimes played down to their opponents this year and can't afford to take Vandy lightly.  If the Tigers lock down the top seed into the conference tournament, they wouldn't play Kentucky or Tennessee -- the conference's two biggest challengers to LSU -- until the championship game.

Seed on the rise: A win on the road against a tournament team will be looked upon fondly by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.  Keep an eye on LSU's rankings in NET, KenPom, and Sagarin tomorrow morning.  It will also be interesting to see where LSU lands in those bracketology projections.  The Tigers were as high as a #2 seed (Jerry Palm, CBS) and as low as a #4 seed (Joe Lunardi, ESPN) earlier this week.  If LSU wins Saturday, and follows that up with a sweep of the SEC conference tournament, then there's a chance they might even grab a #1 seed, although they'd need a lot of help from their challengers in the ACC.

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