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BATON ROUGE, La. – No one descended from the roof dressed as Mike the Tiger, but it was that kind of a Dale Brown night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center Tuesday.
No. 21 LSU christened Dale Brown Court by beating the team he loved to beat the most – Kentucky, 65-60, in front of approximately 11,000 at the nearly full arena.
Before the game, the court was named for Brown, who led the Tigers from 1972-97, reaching Final Fours in 1981 and ’86, the elite eight in 1980 and ’87 and winning four SEC titles in 1979, ’81, ’85 and ’91. Often for Kentucky games, Brown would have Mike the Tiger arrive from the rafters.
There was that type of roar as the game ended on back-to-back dunks by Tari Eason with 17 seconds to go and Xavier Pinson with eight seconds remaining after Kentucky turnovers. The Wildcats (11-3, 1-1 SEC) had cut LSU’s lead to 61-60 with 26.7 seconds to play on a drive and layup by Davion Mintz, but they self-destructed over the final seconds as point guards Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington both had left the game with injuries.
“I tried to get that timeout late,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Joe Lindsay (official) must not have heard me. I was there screaming it.”
Welcome back to the Deaf Dome.
“The Dale Brown Court is 1-0,” Maravich Assembly Center announcer Dan Borne said after the game.
LSU (13-1, 1-1 SEC) took a 51-50 lead on a 3-pointer by Eric Gaines with 7:07 to play to start an 11-4 run that won the game. Darrius Days hit a 3-pointer at the 6:29 mark for a 54-52 lead and another with 3:29 to go for a 59-52 advantage.
“You have to protect your home court in SEC play, and we were able to do that,” LSU coach Will Wade said.
Eason led the Tigers with 13 points and added six rebounds. Pinson scored 11 with four rebounds and four assists. Brandon Murray added 10 points. Mintz led Kentucky with 16 points, and Jacob Toppin had 14 with eight rebounds.
Days scored nine with seven rebounds, and Gaines had eight with three assists for LSU.
Wheeler, who entered the game averaging 10.3 points and 7.7 assists a game for second in the nation, left the game after playing just three minutes and 53 seconds with an apparent concussion after a collision with a screening LSU player.
“When Sahvir (Wheeler) went down,” Calipari said, but didn’t finish the thought. “He’s the engine on this thing and gets us all moving. The kids fought and fought.”
Washington replaced Wheeler at point guard, but he suffered an injury in the second half. He returned to the game but did not look 100 percent. He finished with five points and four assists in 33 minutes. He came in averaging 14 points a game.
Mintz had to move over to point guard.
“We’re a little bit down in numbers,” Calipari said. “We have to see what happens. We also had a couple of guys not play well, multiple injuries, and foul trouble, but they didn’t stop and kept playing. We had funky lineups in that we had never used before, and that gave us trouble offensively because it’s like, ‘How do we play with this team?’”
Kentucky stormed back from a 35-30 halftime deficit to take a 50-41 lead with 13:09 to play on Kellan Grady’s third 3-pointer in just over two minutes. Grady, who scored 13, hit a 3-pointer to put Kentucky up 44-37 at the 15:23 mark, then hit another on with 14:42 left for a 47-39 lead.
“We didn’t have a great start to the second half, to state the obvious,” Wade said. “But our guys played really, really hard and we were able to overcome some of our other deficiencies.”
The Tigers led for most of the first half and took a 35-30 lead into the break on balanced scoring.
LSU took its biggest lead of the half at 35-28 on a dunk by Pinson with 12 seconds left to complete 7-0 run.
Murray hit a 3-pointer with 1:51 left for a 31-28 lead, breaking the fourth tie of the game. Murray and forward Eason led the Tigers with six first half points apiece. Center Efton Reid had five points, four rebounds and three blocked shots in the first half.
LSU took a 15-9 lead at the 12:30 mark on a dunk by Alex Fudge, who also had five points in the first half as did Pinson.
Toppin, who scored 13 of his 14 points in the first half on 6-of-6 shooting with four rebounds, hit a jumper at the buzzer to cut LSU’s lead to 35-30.
Kentucky led just three times in the first half – 3-0 on a 3-pointer by guard TyTy Washington, 18-16 on a jumper by Washington with 8:29 left and 20-19 on a dunk by Lance Ware at the 7:49 mark.
“The guys fought,” Calipari said. “And that’s all you can ask.”