BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Virginia coach Tony Bennett was no stranger to LSU coach Trent Johnson.
The two had faced each other in the Pac-10 and also twice since Johnson took over the Tigers.
Bennett wasn’t surprised that his 21st-ranked Cavaliers had to scrape out a 57-52 victory over LSU on Monday night.
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“I knew it was going to be a hard-fought game,” Bennett said. “You have to play on both ends of the floor against a Trent Johnson team. You have to break them down. It was a typical physical game. It was a grind game. Down the stretch, most of our guys made big plays.”
None were bigger than the 3-pointers made by Sammy Zeglinski and Joe Harris in the final minutes. Both Zeglinski and Harris knocked down 3s when the Cavaliers had a one-point lead.
“I expect (making shots) from them,” said Virginia’s leading scorer Mike Scott, whose two free throws with five seconds remaining clinched the win. “I am surprised when those two guys miss them. This was a good test for us. I thought it was like the start of ACC play.”
Trailing 47-46, Virginia (13-1) went on top on a basket by Assane Sene with 5:13 remaining in the game. Sene’s basket came after his blocked shot went out of bounds off a LSU player. It was nearly two minutes before either team scored again. Zeglinski ended the scoring drought with his 3-pointer.
“Mike made a great pass,” said Zeglinski, who led Virginia with 17 points. “My guy was sagging off me to help out on our big guy. I was fortunate enough to make it.”
LSU (10-4), which had its seven-game winning streak ended, came right back to pull within one point at 51-50 when Anthony Hickey sank a 3-pointer with 2:07 remaining in the game. Then, it was time for Harris to make his 3.
“I knew the shot clock was running down,” said Harris, who had 14 points. “I tried to get the shot up quick. (Ralston) Turner closed out with his hands down. I thought it was going in when I shot it. This win should give us a huge lift.”
The Cavaliers, who extended their winning streak to 11 games, had to prevent LSU from scoring on a couple of possessions in the last minute to preserve their victory.
The Tigers cut their deficit in half at 54-52 on a field goal by Justin Hamilton with 51 seconds remaining. LSU got the ball back when Turner blocked a shot by Harris and Hamilton grabbed the ball. However, Hamilton immediately lost the ball.
The Tigers would have one more opportunity to tie the score after Zeglinski made just one of two foul shots with 19 seconds remaining. Turner failed to make a 3-point shot on LSU’s next possession. Scott, who had 12 points, rebounded for the Cavaliers and made his two free throws.
Hamilton was the Tigers’ only double-figure scorer with a career-high 21 points. Turner, who entered the game with a 10.5 scoring average, was held to two points. Andre Stringer, who had not played in nearly a month due to some fainting issues, started and scored eight points in 24 minutes.
“Not to take anything away from Virginia, but we had way too many breakdowns defensively,” Johnson said. “Losing Harris and losing Zeglinski on end-line out-of-bounds and (giving up) jump shots cost us. If you are not disciplined and you do not close out the shooters, they will make you pay.”
Despite holding the lead for most of the first half, Virginia needed a pair of free throws from Harris in the final 30 seconds to forge a tie going into the break. LSU had no more than a two-point advantage in the opening 20 minutes.
The Tigers grabbed a four-point lead at the outset of the second half on baskets by Hamilton and Turner. The Cavaliers responded with an 8-2 run to go ahead 34-32. A field goal by Harris gave Virginia its first lead of the second half.
LSU came back to take its largest advantage of the game at 42-37. Trailing by one point, Hamilton converted a three-point play and Jalen Courtney knocked down a 3-pointer.
The lead was short-lived as the Cavaliers outscored the Tigers 9-2. A field goal by Scott gave Virginia a 46-44 lead with 6:20 to play. Hickey gave LSU its last lead at 47-46 with a 3-pointer with 5:46 reamaining in the game.