LSU’s road woes and poor defense showed up again Saturday afternoon as the Tigers (18-7, 9-3) struggled in Coleman Coliseum and lost its third game in four outings 88-82 to Alabama (14-11, 6-6).
LSU used to be automatic away from the PMAC. Over the course of this year and last, LSU had won 12 consecutive road SEC games. Now, however, LSU has lost its last three SEC games away from Baton Rouge.
Defense, or lack there of, has been a sore spot for LSU in recent weeks and the trend continued Saturday. Alabama hit 13 threes and got to the free throw line 26 times. In its past three losses, LSU is allowing opponents to score 92.3 points.
“We obviously did a terrible job on (Kira) Lewis and (Jaden) Shackelford’s just playing tremendously well,” Will Wade said. “Pretty much any good guard can get loose against us.”
Alabama built an early 20-13 lead in the first half. LSU had an unusually rough time scoring in the painted area, only converting one of its first nine attempts. But LSU stuck to its strength, made five of its next nine attempts in the paint, and eventually tied the game at 25 with just over four minutes in the half.
But Alabama would close the half on a 15-4 and took an 11-point lead into the break. Alabama would open the second half hitting three corner three-pointers opposite of the Alabama bench and the Tide lead would swell from 11 to 16 forcing Wade to take a timeout.
Alabama led in the second half by as many as 18 points, but LSU nearly overcame that deficit. Skylar Mays hit a three with 1:33 to play to pull LSU within a point, 79-78, but Alabama responded with a pair of threes one from Shackelford and another by Alex Reese with 42 seconds in regulation.
Reese’s three was a back-breaker for LSU. Reese set a high pick and roll for Kira Lewis Jr at the top of the key, but Marlon Taylor recovered and blocked the shot from behind. The ball ricocheted off the backboard, bounced past Emmitt Williams and Javonte Smart, and found its way into the arms of Reese who was left alone and buried a three.
Rebounding is normally a strength for LSU but Alabama grabbed more loose balls when it mattered most. Alabama had 10 offensive rebounds in the second half and the Tide’s Herbert Jones, playing with a cast on his left hand, grabbed a career high 17 rebounds.
Skylar Mays led LSU with 24 points. Both Mays and Javonte Smart (16 points) hit four threes. Freshman forward and Alabama native Trendon Watford scored 18 points. Emmitt Williams had a 13-10 double-double, and Darius Days fouled out in 14 minutes of playing time.
Bama’s Lewis and Shackelford had 27 and 26 points respectively, while Galen Smith had 10 off the bench.
For the Tigers, the sting of Saturday’s loss is mitigated slightly. No. 11 Auburn was stunned by the Missouri Tigers in Columbia 85-73. That puts both LSU and Auburn at 9-3 in SEC play, a game behind the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky comes to Baton Rouge Tuesday. With a win, LSU could jump back into a three-way tie for first in the SEC.