LSU comes back to beat Ole Miss

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 15, 2009

With 15:39 left in the second half of LSU’s 73-66 win Saturday against Ole Miss in Baton Rouge, LSU senior guard Marcus Thornton left with an apparent knee injury.

It looked like an added injury to insult for the Tigers, who were down by seven points and struggling when Thornton left.

But somewhere along the line, LSU found life. And it came a little less than two minutes later.

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Thornton returned with 13:50 left in the game and led LSU with 22 points, pushing the Tigers to a victory against the Rebels.

“I planted my left leg wrong,” Thornton said. “I went one way, and my knee went the other way.”

LSU needed a 19-4 run in the final seven minutes of the game for the win. The Tigers took the lead for good with less than five minutes left in the second half after being down by as many as eight points in the game.

Two free throws by junior forward Tasmin Mitchell with 4:08 left put LSU up for good at 63-62.

“It was a gut check time for us,” Mitchell said. “We just prospered at the end.”

The Rebels, at fourth place in the Southeastern Conference Western Division entering the game, almost upset an LSU team atop the SEC this season.

This matchup between the two teams was far different from the previous one, when LSU beat Ole Miss, 83-51, in Oxford on Jan. 17.

“We played them good up there in Oxford,” said LSU senior guard Garrett Temple. “This was a different team coming to Baton Rouge.”

LSU looked like the better team in the early goings, using a couple of skilled plays by Thornton to take a six-point lead out of the gates.

An acrobatic lay-in by Thornton put LSU up 8-4 after less than three minutes of game time.

But that wasn’t even the good play.

Thornton tipped an outlet pass to Temple, who slammed it home and drew a foul less than two minutes after Thornton’s lay-in, driving the crowd into a frenzy.

Temple, who started at point guard for injured sophomore Bo Spencer, collected five assists in the first half but also had three turnovers.

Spencer hurt his ankle in LSU’s 97-94 double overtime victory against Mississippi State on Wednesday.

“Any time you lose your point guard, it takes away from your continuity,” said LSU coach Trent Johnson. “I thought we were out of rhythm.”

Another emphatic dunk, this time by senior guard Terry Martin, put LSU up 20-13 after seven minutes of play.

The Tigers led by as many as eight in the first half. But the Rebels fought back after the Martin dunk and eventually took control of the game.

Ole Miss cut the lead to 20-18 behind free throws by sophomore forward Malcolm White and a 3-pointer from freshman guard Terrico White.

“I thought we had the right guys taking shots,” said Ole Miss coach Adam Kennedy. “Our two leading scorers were Terrico and David (Huertas). They made a majority of their shots.”

Mitchell hit back-to-back shots after Terrico White’s shot, momentarily giving control back to the Tigers.

But a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Zach Graham gave Ole Miss its first lead of the game, 27-26.

LSU momentarily took the lead back, but Ole Miss junior guard David Huertas retook it on a layup with 4:15 left in the first half.

He hit a jumper less than a minute later for a 33-29 advantage.

Ole Miss led from that point until the run by LSU at the end.

“They have two kids on their team that are player of the year candidates in Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton,” Kennedy said. “Those are the kids that made the plays down the stretch. We would prefer that someone else would have to step up and make the plays, but that’s what great players do.”

The Rebels picked up where they left off in the first half, hitting a shot in the second frame’s opening minute for a 39-32 lead.

Ole Miss led by as many as eight points in the game—even with a little more than nine minutes left.

The Rebels took control of the game for a near six-minute stretch in the second half.

An alley-oop from Graham to Terrico White gave Ole Miss a 57-49 lead.

layup by freshman forward Terrance Henry put Ole Miss back up by eight points after LSU cut its deficit to six points.

And then things got exciting.

“We showed some mental toughness,” Trent Johnson said. “Ole Miss played well, and they are going to be a handful. They have a bright future.”

Thornton gave the crowd of 11,425 people some energy after five points in less than a minute, cutting Ole Miss’ lead to 62-59.

Thornton hit a 3-pointer with 7:06 left to play, then hit a layup after a Temple steal that put the crowd on its feet.

A Chris Johnson jumper later, and the score was 62-61.

“Tasmin [Mitchell] had six points in a row, which put them in striking range,” Kennedy said. “Their other senior, Chris Johnson, made two huge plays … but really the back-breaker was the 18-footer.”