Two of the premier point guards in the Southeastern Conference were on display Wednesday night in Baton Rouge.
Both Phil Pressey and Anthony Hickey shouldered a massive workload for their respective Tigers, but in the end it was Hickey’s that clung to a fizzling lead and held on at the end to knock off No. 17 Missouri 70-70 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
During one stretch, Pressey scored eight straight to cut a 14 point LSU lead to six, and a pair of Jabari Brown free throws made it four with 13:47 to play, the narrowest margin since the 16:00 mark of the first half.
After a timeout, Hickey immediately erupted for seven straight to swell the lead back to 11.
“That’s the type of player Hickey is. I think he’s excited to play against someone with those type of accolades,” said LSU head coach Johnny Jones. “I thought Hickey did an excellent job of responding.”
From that point on, it was a slugfest that produced a great deal of nervous energy among the 8,804 in the Assembly Center as the visiting Tigers showed no sign of giving up.
Outside of a Shavon Coleman jumper at the 11:09 mark, Hickey scored all of LSU’s points from 13:29 to 3:54 when Johnny O’Bryant buried a pair of free throws.
Hickey managed to keep Missouri at arm’s length, sinking shot after shot, mostly off the dribble. Missouri got no closer than three during the stretch, but that was just before O’Bryant’s free throws.
Pressey scored two of his game-high 25 just seconds after the O’Bryant freebies. LSU, in desperate need of a response, turned to junior Andre Stringer who hauled in a Hickey delivery in transition and launched a three ball from the left wing. As the whistle blew to signal a foul on Pressey, the ball splashed through the net, and the crowd erupted.
Stringer would bury the free throw to nudge the advantage out to seven with just more than three minutes on the clock.
“Hickey drove down, and the guy was guarding him and taking away the lane so I just stepped behind the three,” Stringer said. “I saw Pressey coming behind me, so I just followed through, and I was lucky he fouled me. I think it got the crowd into the game.”
Stringer finished the night with 18 points on just six field goal attempts. His four threes in five attempts moved him into fifth on the LSU all-time list, and he made all six free throws he attempted.
But Missouri wasn’t going anywhere.
Tony Criswell tipped in an errant three ball to pare the lead to five and Brown’s three seconds later had it to two.
Hickey and Stringer would make three of four free throws on two possessions, but Pressey found Earnest Ross for an open three that made the score 68-66 with 33 seconds to play.
Missouri then called a timeout to set its defense, but when the teams retook the floor, the Tigers forgot O’Bryant who took a Charles Carmouche inbounds pass all alone at midcourt and drove to the bucket for a hoop and a foul.
O’Bryant would miss the free throw, and Pressey answered with a lay in.
O’Bryant made the next two free throws and again Pressey went right to the rim for a lay in.
With 14 seconds left, the LSU lead stood at two.
Coleman made one of two free throws with 13 ticks left to make it three before Pressey missed his eighth three pointer in nine tries. Coleman missed two on the next trip, leaving the door open for a Missouri tie, but the Tigers didn’t get a shot off, losing their third road game in three tries in the SEC.
“Really excited, not only for out basketball team, but for our fans,” Jones said. “I thought our guys did an excellent job from tip.”
That had been an issue for Jones’ Tigers who had made a habit of falling behind early in games.
After seven minutes of play, the LSU Tigers had a 17-6 lead.
“The crowd got us into it from the beginning,” Hickey said after his 20 point effort. “Before the game we huddled up and said we haven’t had our come out punch…we were able to get up in the first half.”
Missouri head coach Frank Haith had a different take.
“I think that we have no toughness in the first half,” Haith said. “It’s disappointing. It’s extremely disappointing.”
LSU played a consistent brand of basketball, shooting 56 percent in the first half and 55 in the second. The Tigers have now won 16 in a row when shooting 50 percent.