BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)And then there were two.
Liberty’s hopes of going into the new year undefeated ended with a 74-57 loss to LSU Sunday.
The defeat left No. 8 Auburn and No. 15 San Diego State as the nation’s only unbeatens headed into 2020.
”Our No. 1 goal wasn’t to go undefeated,” said Liberty coach Ritchie McKay, whose team had won its first 14 games. ”Our goal is keep getting better.
”Today didn’t go the way we’d hoped. But LSU played really motivated today.”
That the Tigers (8-4) were, especially after losses to East Tennessee and Southern Cal had them staring at a three-game losing streak entering SEC play.
”Our backs were against the wall,” said LSU junior guard Charles Manning. ”You want to take it game-by-game, but we hadn’t been getting the results we wanted.
”We got them today because we played hard, played focused and played hard.”
Liberty came into the game No. 2 in the country in scoring defense (51.6 points-per-game allowed) and No. 6 field-goal percentage defense (35.6).
But LSU was able to get good backside penetration and wound up shooting 53.3% (32 of 60) against a team which hadn’t allowed more than 44% shooting in its first 14 games.
Darius Days led four double-figure scorers for LSU with 14 points.
More than that, the Tigers played aggressively on defense, turning nine steals into a 23-0 advantage on points off turnovers.
LSU led 32-26 at halftime and used four of those turnovers in a 20-6 run in the early portion of the second half to establish a comfortable lead that was never challenged.
”This is football country,” said McKay, referring to LSU’s being in the College Football Playoff championship game. ”They got some pick-sixes off us today.”
LSU coach Will Wade agreed.
”That’s a crazy stat,” he said of the Tigers’ points-off-turnover margin. ”But I’m proud because we only turned it over six times.
”We wanted to play with a sense of urgency today, and we wound up with maybe our best game of the season.”
Scottie James and Darius McGhee topped Liberty with 12 each. The Flames shot 40.8% and made only 8 of 25 3-point attempts.
Liberty: The Flames’ dreams of a perfect regular season are over. But they’re still the overwhelming favorite in the American Sun Conference where none of the league’s other eight teams have a winning record.
LSU: The Tigers needed this one, especially after losing at home to East Tennessee State, their first nonconference home defeat since 2017, and then by two points on the road against Southern Cal. This may not be the caliber to team that won last year’s SEC title, but at least there’s a little momentum going into league play.
The game was delayed for more than 10 minutes midway through the second half when a dunk by LSU’s Emmett Williams broke the rim. While the Pete Maravich Assembly Center crowd was entertained with dance music, the Tigers’ Day said he had to keep moving around to keep from cramping up.
Liberty: The Flames haven’t played at home since Dec. 2, and they won’t until Jan. 9 since they open conference play Thursday at Florida Gulf Coast followed by a Saturday trip to NJIT. That will complete a seven-game road trip that saw them play in six states and travel 9,035 miles.
LSU: The Tigers open defense of their Southeastern Conference championship Saturday at Tennessee.
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