Trent Johnson Has LSU in 1st Place in SEC

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

Trent Johnson took over a LSU basketball program last April that had gone through consecutive losing seasons in the Southeastern Conference.

Now in Johnson's first season the Tigers are SEC champions again, clinching at least a share of the conference crown with an 81-75 victory against Florida on Tuesday night.

Marcus Thornton scored 32 points for the Tigers (24-4, 12-1), who have won nine straight overall and 12 in a row in SEC play. They can win their second outright conference title in the last four seasons with one victory in the last three games.

"I'm so happy for these guys, you have no idea," Johnson said. "I don't believe in all that destiny stuff. This is a good basketball team. The thing I really appreciate about these guys is they speak from the heart and they have a sense of security."

Garett Temple scored a career-high 21 points for the Tigers. Tasmin Mitchell added 12 points.

It's been a huge turnaround for LSU, which fired coach John Brady during last season's losing campaign. Johnson was lured away from Stanford after the season.

"Winning is always fun," Thornton said. "Last year, we didn't have the season like we wanted to have. Nobody but the guys in this locker room thought we could have a season like this."

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Walter Hodge paced the Gators (21-7, 8-5) with 16 points.

The Tigers trailed 56-53 before going on a 14-2 run to take control of the game. A basket by Temple was followed by Bo Spencer's three-point play and gave LSU a 58-56 lead. After Alex Tyus tied the score for Florida, LSU scored nine consecutive points.

"I think we were playing against the best team in the league right now with a whole bunch of seniors," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "Our guys did pretty well to be honest with you. We had some plays that we could have made, but we just didn't."

Two free throws by Mitchell gave the Tigers the lead at 60-58 with 10:18 to go. A 3-poiuter by Temple, a layup by Mitchell and two foul shots by Thornton boosted the LSU advantage to nine points at 67-58 with 8:01 to play.

The Gators scored six straight points on a three-point play by Ray Shipman and a 3-pointer by Ervin Walker. LSU rebuilt its advantage to seven points on two foul shots by Thornton and a dunk by Chris Johnson. Florida came no closer than four points the rest of the way.

"We really got after them and guarded them in the second half," Trent Johnson said. "At halftime, we made a couple of adjustments to attack their zone. We made a decision to run our man stuff against it."

Tyus had 15 points for Florida and Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes each had 12 points.

Florida, which trailed for most of the opening 20 minutes, closed the first half on a 17-5 run to take a four-point lead. The Gators were behind 32-24 after Thornton made his third 3-pointer with 6:58 remaining before halftime.

A 3-pointer by Dan Werner began the Florida outburst. Tyus and Calathes combined to score the Gators' next ten points. A three-point play by Tyus tied the score at 37 with 1:19 left in the first half.

Shipman then made a steal and drove for a layup to give Florida its first lead since early in the first half. A layup by Parsons put the Gators on top 41-37 at halftime.

LSU regained the lead at 44-43 less than two minutes into the second half when Thornton knocked down another 3-pointer. However, Florida came right back to take a 50-46 lead with Hodge making a pair of layups.

The Tigers answered with seven consecutive points -- five by Temple.

The Gators scored six points in a row on a 3-pointer by Walker and a three-point play by Parsons to go on top 56-53 with 12:05 remaining in the game. LSU then started the game-deciding run.


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