If this game was any indication, the 2014-15 college basketball season is going to be an exciting one.
In the season opener for both the LSU Tigers and the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, both teams had a shot to win the game in the last couple of minutes. However, the Tigers were able to pull away, thanks to some timely costless throws in the last minute, and secure a 93 - 82 victory. However, the game was a lot closer than the 11-point deficit would lead some to believe.
The Tigers entered the game as 14-point favourites, they never eclipsed that mark in the first half. The Tigers led by as many as 10 points early in the first half, but the pesky Bulldogs wouldn't go away quietly. LSU found themselves stuck on the 20-point mark for over two minutes in the first half, but the Bulldogs couldn't capitalize.
The Bulldogs kept coming at the Tigers, and took a 31 - 30 lead on a Tyler Poston three-pointer, with 5:27 left in the half. The teams would go back and forth from there on out in the first half, with neither team taking a lead larger than 3 points in the last 5 minutes of the haf. Gardner-Webb would take a 43 - 42 lead into the break, in what a bit of a surprising score considering the talent level that LSU had on their roster and the pregame odds.
That just goes to show that odds only mean so much.
In the second half, the Tigers would open up with a 9 - 0 run, capped off by a Keith Hornsby layup, as LSU took a 51 - 43 lead. The Runnin' Bulldogs were held scoreless through the first 3 minutes of the half, before Tyrell Nelson made a layup at the 16:42 mark to end the Bulldogs' scoring drought.
The Bulldogs would find themselves mired in anothe lengthy scoring drought of over two minutes, as they were stuck on 52 points. The Tigers would make a run and stretch the lead to 12, 64 - 52, capped off by a Jordan Mickey layup.
The lead would eventually stretch to 14 points, and it got up to 16 points for a brief moment, but the Tigers couldn't put any more separation between themselves and Gardner-Webb, and the Bulldogs started to claw their way back into the game.
Led by Tyler Strange and Jarvis Davis, the Bulldogs got the game back down to single-digits, and they found themselves within 5 points with 40 seconds to play. Strong costless throw shooting from LSU, and missed opportunities by the Bulldogs were what spelled the end for Gardner-Webb and their comeback efforts.
The lead was 8 before LSU's Josh Gray drove the lane in the dying seconds, getting fouled by Tyler Strange for the chance at a 3-point play with 0.6 seconds remaining. Strange didn't appear to like the fact that Gray would go for more points with the game already locked up, as he had a few choice words for the referee. Gray made the three point play, and LSU went on to win 93 - 82.
The Tigers were led by their duo of star sophomores, in Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Martin and Mickey tied for the team-high in points with 21 a piece. Martin chipped in a team-high 11 rebounds to go along with 2 steals. Mickey added a team-high 6 assists to go along with his 6 rebounds. Overall, four Tigers scored in double-figures, as Gray (18 points) and Keith Hornsby (17) both reached the double-digits.
Not to be out done, Gardner-Webb had four of their own players score in double-digits, led by forward Jerome Hill, who had a game-high 25 points in a losing effort. Tyrell Nelson (16 points), Tyler Strange (14), and Jarvis Davis (11), all reached double-digits in the loss. Gardner-Webb showed that they are going to be a team to keep an eye on in the Big South this season, as they are a very disciplined team with a solid, balanced scoring attack.
LSU was projected to finish 4th in the SEC in the preseason polls. If they continue to play like they did against Gardner-Webb, they may find themselves a lot lower in the standings. Mind you, it's only the first game, so expect LSU to quickly shake off the rust and play at the level most expect them to.
Gardner-Webb takes on the College of Charleston on Monday in another road affair. LSU will stay at the Maravich Center as they take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Tuesday.