When the sun rose Saturday morning, LSU found itself in a three-way tie for eighth place in the Southeastern Conference with an 8-9 mark.
By late Saturday night, the Tigers were the No. 5 seeds in the SEC Tournament that opens Wednesday at 21,500-seat Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.
On Saturday afternoon, LSU defeated No. 25 Alabama, 80-77, in overtime to catapult back into respectability with its first victory over a ranked team since Jan. 8 when it beat No. 18 Tennessee, 79-67, on its way to a 15-1 and 3-1 start and No. 12 ranking.
LSU (21-10, 9-9) is tied for fifth with five teams at 9-9 – Texas A&M, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina. That win over Tennessee (23-7, 14-4), which is ranked 13th now and finished as the No. 2 seed, and a 65-60 victory on Jan. 4 over then-No. 16 Kentucky (25-6, 14-4), which is now No. 7 and the No. 3 seed, are the reasons why LSU beat out the four 9-9 teams for the No. 5 seed.
The Tigers, who have not been ranked since early February, play at approximately 2:30 p.m. eastern time Thursday in the SEC Tournament against the winner of No. 12 seed Missouri (11-20, 5-13) and No. 13 seed Ole Miss (13-18, 4-14). Those two open the tournament at 6 p.m. Wednesday with No. 11 Vanderbilt (15-15, 7-11) and No. 14 Georgia (6-25, 1-17) playing at about 8:30 p.m. All Wednesday and Thursday games will be on the SEC Network.
LSU just lost to lowly seeds Ole Miss and Vanderbilt last month in a rollercoaster season.
“This is going to help our seed a lot,” said LSU senior forward Darius Days, who scored a game-high 24 points with seven rebounds, three steals and 3-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
He could have been talking about either the NCAA Tournament or SEC Tournament seed.
LSU has been listed most often as a No. 7 seed in recent weeks, but that could inch up, depending how the Tigers do in the SEC Tournament.
“For the NCAA Tournament, this win will help us a lot,” Days said. “It’s a quad one win. It will help our confidence.”
Quadrant one victories include home wins over teams with a top 30 RPI. Alabama is at No. 17 while LSU is at No. 24 in RPI.
It was also LSU’s first win over Alabama after five straight losses.
“It was a must win,” said LSU guard Brandon Murray, who scored 17 with three steals and hit 2-of-6 from 3-point range. “It was no more than that. We had to do what we had to do.”
Alabama (19-12, 9-9), which has been listed as a No. 5 NCAA Tournament seed, is now the No. 6 seed in the SEC Tournament and will play in the late game Thursday against the Vanderbilt-Georgia winner.
“Tough loss,” said Alabama coach Nate Oats, whose team trailed 68-64 with three minutes left in regulation but managed a 72-72 tie. “We played a lot harder than we had recently. Much better.”
The Tide lost 87-71 at home Wednesday to one of the hottest teams in the SEC – Texas A&M, which just weeks ago was smelling the cellar of the SEC. The Aggies (20-11, 9-9) are the SEC Tournament No. 8 seed and will play No. 9 seed Florida (19-12, 9-9) in the first game Thursday at noon.
The Aggies won 67-64 at home Saturday over Mississippi State. It was A&M’s fourth straight victory and fifth of the last six. That run came off an eight-game losing streak that had the Aggies at 15-10 and 4-8 and near the bottom of the league on Feb. 12. Texas A&M could sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Others like Florida and South Carolina are also on the bubble.
“I can honestly say we didn’t rediscover anything,” Texas A&M senior guard Quenton Jackson said after scoring 28 in the win at Alabama. “We knew the answers to the test the whole time. We just had to figure a way to implement that into the game. We never got discouraged.”
Jackson scored 18 in the win over Mississippi State (17-14, 8-10). The Bulldogs are the SEC Tournament No. 10 seed and play No. 7 seed South Carolina (18-12, 9-9) at 6 p.m. Thursday.
SEC Tournament Friday play opens with No. 1 seed/regular season champion and No. 5 Auburn (27-4, 15-3) playing at noon on ESPN against the Texas A&M-Florida winner. Auburn, which won 15 league games for the first time in history, should be a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.
No. 4 seed Arkansas (24-7, 13-5) plays at approximately 2:30 p.m. Friday on ESPN against Missouri, Ole Miss or LSU. No. 2 seed Tennessee plays at 6 p.m. on the SEC Network against the South Carolina-Mississippi State winner.
No. 3 seed Kentucky plays at approximately 8:30 p.m. Friday against Vanderbilt, Georgia or Alabama on the SEC Network. The Wildcats are likely to be a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament with Tennessee looking like a No. 3 and Arkansas like a No. 4.
The semifinals will be at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday on ESPN. The championship game will be at 1 p.m. on Sunday on ESPN.
“All the records reset now,” LSU coach Will Wade said.