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|Thorton leads LSU past Auburn, 79-72|
BATON ROUGE -- The 23rd-ranked LSU men's basketball team clinched at least a tie for the Western Division title of the Southeastern Conference and moved ever closer to a possible SEC overall championship with a gritty 79-72 win over the Auburn Tigers Saturday night before a large paid Mardi Gras weekend crowd of 11,871.
The Tigers, 23-4 and 11-1 in the SEC, winner of 11 straight SEC games, clinches the No. 1 seed in the West for the SEC Tournament in Tampa next month. The Tigers are four games up with four to play over Mississippi State and LSU has all tie breakers for the West top seed because of a sweep earlier in the year over State.
LSU remains three games ahead of Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina who are all 8-4 on the year and tied for the Eastern Division lead. LSU needs one win or losses by all three East teams to clinch at least a tie for the conference championship and two to clinch the outright conference championship.
Auburn (17-10 and 6-6) remains in contention for the second spot in the West despite the loss, just one game behind Mississippi State.
Marcus Thornton again led the Tigers in scoring with 25 points, including a near perfect 12-of-13 from the line. All five starters were in double figures with Bo Spencer returning to the starting lineup after two games out with a sprained left ankle. Spencer scored 14 points and played 28 minutes, while Tasmin Mitchell also scored 14. Chris Johnson and Garrett Temple each scored 12.
Korvotney Barber had 19 points to lead Auburn, while Tay Waller added 17 and DeWayne Reed 16.
LSU jumped out quickly on Auburn getting a seven point lead at 12-5 at the 16:41 mark and led by 10 at 18-18 on a jumper by Thornton 2:30 later. Auburn, cutting and slashing to the basket for buckets with their three-point shot being overplayed by LSU's defense, cut the game to two at 20-18 and trailed just 36-33 at the break.
LSU opened up a seven-point lead in the first five minutes of the second half before Auburn tied the game at 50-50 with 13:07 to go on a three-pointer by Lucas Hargrove. Auburn would take a four-point 56-52 lead with 10:04 to play on a Waller jumper but Mitchell had a layup and Quinton Thornton a lay in to tie the game at 56-56 (8:45) and then LSU ran off four more points on free throws to take a 60-56 lead with 7:41 to play.
But Auburn came back one more time to tie the game at 60-60 at the 6:08 mark on a Barber jumper but Thornton would hit his only three pointer of the night at the 5:41 mark from the deep corner to give LSU the lead for good 63-60.
"Auburn is good," said LSU Coach Trent Johnson. "They're a very good basketball team. Going in, we knew they were better than expected. We played very, very well at times and at other times we looked like we weren't playing that well, but (Auburn) had everything to do with that. For us to have five guys in double figures and out-rebound them shows how much they extended us. I told our guys that from here on out everyone we play is going to be a good basketball team and we just have to be mentally tough and physically tough. We're going to have to execute and make good, solid plays and for the most part tonight we did enough to win."
LSU out rebounded the Auburn Tigers, 41-29.
The Tigers host Florida on ESPN as part of its Super Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Maravich Center in the first Fat Tuesday contest in Baton Rouge since 1994. Tickets are on sale at LSUsports.net and tickets in the upper level are available for the game as part of a Mardi Gras special for just $5. It is the next-to-last home game of the season for the Tigers.
LSU HEAD COACH TRENT JOHNSON
Opening Statement ...
"Auburn is good; they're a very good basketball team. Going in, we knew they were better than expected. We played very, very well at times and at other times and at times we looked like we weren't playing that well, but (Auburn) had everything to do with that. For us to have five guys in double figures and out-rebound them shows how much they extended us. I told our guys that from here on out everyone we play is going to be a good basketball team and we just have to be mentally tough and physically tough. We're going to have to execute and make good, solid plays and for the most part tonight we did enough to win."
On having Bo Spencer back in the lineup ...
"It meant a lot. Bo was able to get us into a rhythm. He was able to back them off initially because to start the game we couldn't stop them from scoring. Bo's ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter really helped us tonight."
On shooting 20-for-21 from the free throw line ...
"After shooting 50 percent on the road it was nice to bounce back and shoot that well here at home. That's the good thing about this group, when they don't have success in every facet of the game they address it themselves by making a conscious effort at practice and at shoot-around to hit free throws."
On the current SEC race ...
"We just want to win the next game. I'm happy with the way this team has handled the situation with everything that's surrounding them. It's like tonight after the game, they were very subdued and very relaxed. Tomorrow we're going to watch Florida tape and walk-through for Florida. It's just a normal day for us."
LSU PLAYER QUOTES
F Tasmin Mitchell
On the game against Auburn ...
"Tonight everything started off right. We had some moments where we got away from what we were trying to do but we capitalized there at the end and came away with the victory."
G Marcus Thornton
On playing Auburn ...
"Tonight was a great game to play in going down the stretch. Auburn has been hot lately and we knew coming in that Auburn was going to give us their best shot. We weathered the storm again and won."
G Bo Spencer
On being able to play after an injury ...
"I felt good. In practice the last few days, I knew I was going to be tired because I hadn't been running. It felt good just to get back out there. It is good as long as (my ankle) gets warm."
G Garrett Temple
On winning against Auburn ...
"We have a pretty good cushion in the SEC, so we know that whatever team comes in going to give us their best shot. Auburn was really hot and we just wanted to keep our streak going and play good basketball. We got away from it at the end of the first half, but picked it up in the second half and knocked down free throws to put them away."
On having point guard Bo Spencer back...
"It is good to have a guy at point guard the whole season playing really well for us. Without him, teams tend to pressure us more and our guys have to switch up their roles. He is an integral part of the team and I'm glad to have him back."
AUBURN HEAD COACH JEFF LEBO
Opening Statement ...
"Missed free throws really hurt us obviously; they can win or lose the ball game. LSU is a very physical team offensively and defensively and we spent most of the night on our rear ends close to the buckets and that was another factor in the game. I liked the way we were aggressive though and I like that out of my team."
On the physical play of LSU ...
"They're very physical with Tasmin Mitchell and (Marcus) Thornton. They're physical defensively, but offensively too. They kind of pounded it to those two guys, and they're two good players and really hurt us tonight."
On LSU ...
"They're a good offensive team; they're very efficient and made shots. I like the way we took the hit and didn't back down though."
AUBURN GUARD TAY WALLER
On the difference in the game ...
"Free throws have been hurting us all season. Coach (Lebo) said we have to hit free throws to win games and we didn't hit them. That really hurt us down the stretch and that's what cost us the game."