BATON ROUGE, La. -- It might not help them into the NCAA tournament, but LSU pulled off its best win of the conference season with a 69-67 overtime upset of No. 23 Mississippi State on Tuesday.
The Tigers (15-10, 5-6) rallied from a 17-point deficit to force a late tie against a hot-shooting Mississippi State team. LSU even had a chance to down the Bulldogs (19-7, 6-5) at the end of regulation, but power forward Justin Hamilton misfired from 3-point range to send the game into an extra period. In overtime, Hamilton and guard Anthony Hickey took over, scoring nine of the Tigers' 11 points to steal the victory.
The win is LSU's second against ranked opposition this season. The other came on Dec. 19 against then-No. 10 Marquette.
"The only thing that matters is that locker room is happy," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "It's a big win because of how hard they worked."
There and back again: In the span of the game's final 45 seconds, LSU appeared to have clinched the game, and then lost it before Hickey ultimately delivered.
After two Storm Warren free throws gave the Tigers a two-point lead, Hickey danced his way through the Bulldog defense for a beautiful running layup. The basket gave LSU a four-point lead with 21 seconds left -- seemingly assuring victory. Of all people, 6-foot-8, 280-pound Bulldog forward Renardo Sidney cut the deficit to one with a well-timed 3-pointer.
With the game in the balance, Ralston Turner turned over the ensuing inbounds pass, and a foul sent State to the line with a chance to take the lead. Bulldog guard Brian Bryant tied the game, but couldn't sink his second shot.
With less than 10 seconds remaining, the ball once again fell to Hickey, who once again scrambled to the rim for the game-winner.
"Whatever happened, happened -- I was going to hit the open man," Hickey said. "But I looked at the shot clock and it was at five. So, my team has confidence in me and I have confidence in them, so I took the shot and it fell down."
Tigers rally: The only reason the game got to overtime was because of a fierce LSU rally late in the first half. With about six minutes to play in the first, the Tigers looked to be a lost cause. The Bulldogs were shooting 57 percent from the field, behind 13 points from Dee Bost, and held a commanding 30-13 lead.
As bleak as it looked, LSU ramped up the defense to turn things around. From the 5:58 mark of the first half to the 17:31 mark of the second half, the Tigers went on a 23-6 run to claw back. Warren played a big role, coming off the bench to contribute four points, seven boards and a block in just 12 minutes in the first half.
"Defensively to start, for whatever reason, our energy was just god awful," Johnson said. "(LSU's bench players) were great, and they got us back in this thing."
When Turner hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first half, the Tigers cut the lead to seven and established that the game would be a fight.
Lockdown D: The big reason for State's early run was some lackluster defense on LSU's part -- a problem that's been uncharacteristic for a normally solid defensive group.
The Bulldogs didn't have to work hard for their shots in the early going, and they responded by shooting 57 percent from the field with a solid 4-of-7 mark from 3-point range.
Starting late in the first half, the Tigers stepped up their game. Mississippi State shot 37 percent in the second half, and LSU forced a whopping 21 Bulldog turnovers. After the hot start from long range, LSU also stopped giving up open 3's, as Mississippi State finished the night 6-of-18 from behind the arc after the 4-of-7 start.
"The start was horrendous," Johnson said. "I don't know what they told you, but there wasn't a lot of adjustments going on at halftime -- just one immature basketball coach."