Although the game may have been closer than expected, the Tigers came through in the end, winning 80-67.
With just over 12 minutes left in the second half, Chattanooga made their run. Following an LSU timeout, the Mocs cut a 55-48 LSU lead down to two points in just one minute. Leading only 55-53, the Tigers bounced back. Andre Stringer nailed one of his four three-pointers, Johnny O'Bryant dunked after receiving a pass from Shavon Coleman, and then O'Bryant assisted Coleman on a basket to stretch the lead to 62-53. From that point on, it was smooth sailing for the Tigers.
This was the first game where LSU played without their star point guard, Anthony Hickey, who is suspended indefinitely, and his presence was missed. They turned the ball over 17 times and missed his intense perimeter defense at times. However, in Hickey's absence, junior guard Andre Stringer played one of his best games in an LSU uniform, hitting seven of 14 shots from the field for 18 points. And while Hickey leads the entire nation in steals with 4.4 per game, Stringer and freshmen Malik Morgan combined for seven of their own.
Johnny O'Bryant also had an impressive game, posting 18 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes, while freshmen guard Corban Collins scored a career high 11 points. The balanced team effort helped offset efficient games from Chattanooga's Ronrico White and former Ole Miss tight end Z Mason (yes, he goes by Z), as well as quiet performance from LSU star Shavon Coleman.
The Tigers continued to play the uptempo style favored by coach Johnny Jones and used every opportunity to create fast break opportunities from long rebounds and turnovers. Without Hickey's calming presence, the Tigers were called for several charges and were out of control at times on offense, but they were able to take advantage of multiple catch-and-shoot opportunities in fast break situations, especially in the second half.
In the season preview, I mentioned one way for LSU to be successful was to play a style similar to the 2011-12 Missouri team, which often used four players 6'6" and shorter, but made up for their lack of size with defensive intensity and a secondary fast break that set up three pointers in transition. My one area of concern was this team's ability to hit from long distance consistently, but on this night, LSU was very good from behind the three point line, converting 9 of their 19 attempts.
LSU also got another impressive performance from former walk-on center Andrew Del Piero. The 7'3" former tuba player started the game but was at his best in the game's final minutes. In a two minute stretch at the end of the second half, Del Piero blocked two of his three shots and scored two baskets, including an emphatic dunk on an alley-oop from Andre Stringer to give the Tigers a 76-61 lead. Soon after, LSU officially wrapped up their sixth win of the season.
The Tigers join powerhouses like Duke, Indiana, Florida, and Michigan among the 14 undefeated teams in Division 1.