CHARLESTON, S.C. - The LSU men's basketball team put together a much improved effort and stymied one of the tournament favorites for much of the afternoon before a late three-pointer clinched an 88-82 win for the Northwestern Wildcats in the quarterfinal round of the eight-team Charleston Classic here Thursday at TD Arena.
The Tigers (1-2) now play Western Kentucky, a 65-49 loser to Tulsa, in an earlier quarterfinal matchup. Northwestern (2-0), one of the favorites for the top part of the Big 10 after going to the NIT, meets Tulsa in one semifinal.
LSU, up nine at the half, lost the lead in the second half and then battled back to get it to just a one-point deficit on a Ralston Turner three with 48 seconds to play. But JerShon Cobb came back on the other end and hit a dagger of trey from the corner with 28 seconds left to give Northwestern a four-point advantage that LSU couldn't overcome.
Playing on national television for the first time this season, Johnny O'Bryant III came off the bench to score 22 points in 21 solid minutes, hitting 6-of-8 field goals and 9-of-11 free throws with eight boards. Andre Stringer hit three treys, scoring 15 points, while Anthony Hickey had 11 before fouling out and Justin Hamilton posted 10.
The Wildcats were led by John Shurna who was a one-man scoring machine with 37 points on 10-of-21 shooting including four treys and 13-of-14 at the free throw line. Drew Crawford had 17 points and Dave Sobolewski 10 points and 6 assists.
The Tigers looked much more in sync against the Wildcats in the first half, playing good defense and holding their own on the boards. The game turned for LSU with 12:41 to play in the opening 20 minutes as Hamilton's layup erased a 14-13 Northwestern lead and started a 20-5 run that put LSU up 33-19 with 4:31 to go in the first half.
But the Tigers made a few bad decisions with the big lead and Northwestern was able to get it to seven before LSU went to the dressing room up 41-32.
However, Northwestern came out in a 1-3-1 matchup zone that picked up just before the half court line that drew three players toward either Hickey or Stringer as they moved across the line, making passing or starting the offense difficult.
The Wildcats' Shurna hit a three on the first possession of the half to cut the lead to six, LSU turned the ball over and Crawford hit a three to cut it to three, forcing an LSU turnover 56 seconds into the half.
LSU was able to build the lead back to eight, but finally on a three by Reggie Hearn, Northwestern tied the game at 49-49 with 14:51 to play and took the lead for good almost four minutes later at 59-58 on a Crawford free throw with 11:04 to play.
"We knew at halftime they were going to make an adjustment and go to their matchup," said LSU Coach Trent Johnson. "I think their length caused us some problems and we made some unforced turnovers. Basically, we made some bad decisions. We have to do a better job of closing the half and when we were up 14, we came down and made some bad decisions. I told the guys we can only play on emotion for so long. When you are able to come down and set up, settle down and make good solid decisions offensively and defensively, the better chances you will have."
Although Northwestern would turn the game three times into a nine-point advantage, the last at 76-67 with 5:07 to play, the Tigers began to find ways to combat the zone and score, a lot of it coming from O'Bryant III and Stringer. An O'Bryant III layup at the 3:58 mark got the game back to three at 76-73 for the Wildcats, and to two on a fast break layup at 79-77 with 2:10 to play.
O'Bryant III answered a NU layup with two free throws with 1:17 left with Cobb answering with a jumper with 57 seconds left giving the Wildcats a four-point lead setting the stage for the Turner three followed by the Sobolewski three that kept the game at four. Turner would miss a three, and Northwestern added two free throws for the final margin.
"That's a good basketball team we played," said Johnson. "The game never got away from us. Everybody wants to say we're young. We are going to be fine. The key for us as I told the players is making sure you stay the course and stay together. We are going to win our share of games. We've gotten beat by two experienced quality basketball teams. We've got to shore some things up defensively. We were better on the glass (Thursday). We've got to do a better job at the point of attack. This stuff (Northwestern) runs is hard to guard whether you are experienced or young."
"We played a great first half," said O'Bryant III. "Northwestern is a great team and we didn't get down or give us when we fell behind and we were almost able to come back and get it. We need to keep our heads up, get ready for our next game and just keep working hard."
For the game, LSU shot 49.1 percent (25-of-55) and 6-of-21 from the arc (28.6%). NU was 26-of-59 (44.1%) including 17-of-30 in the second half (56.7%). The Wildcats made 12 treys, including 6-of-13 in the second half. Both teams shot over 84 percent at the free throw line with LSU missing just four of 26 and Northwestern 4 of 28.
LSU had a 39-28 rebound advantage including 16-12 on the offensive board. LSU had a 32-14 advantage in points on the paint, but the Wildcats had a 28-10 lead in points off turnovers. However, LSU countered with a 25-13 second chance point total and scored 31 points off the bench.