It seemed as if the ball bounced around the rim for an eternity.
What ensued was the most fitting end to a dramatic display of Southeastern Conference basketball between the conference’s two top dogs.
J’ Von McCormick hit the floater, that proved to be the game-clinching basket, with 0.1 second left in overtime to complete No. 11 Auburn’s comeback and lift the Tigers over No. 18 LSU, 91-90, in a thrilling matchup that decided first place in the SEC standings.
McCormick, who willed Auburn into the overtime period making three consecutive 3-pointers in the final minute of regulation, finished with 23 points, nine assists and a career-high nine rebounds in front of a sold-out Auburn Arena Saturday.
“I felt like it came off my hands pretty good,” McCormick said. “I work on those shots all the time so it was just nothing to me."
Auburn (21-2, 8-2 SEC) added yet another comeback win to its resume moving into first place in the conference, winning its sixth straight with three of its last four victories coming in overtime. It was also the third time in the last four games that the Tigers have rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half. All three, Ole Miss, Arkansas and now LSU, were decided in overtime where Auburn is still perfect, improving to 4-0 in those games.
The Tigers trailed by as many as 15 to LSU Saturday.
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“We got a veteran group, and we're going to fight till the end and till the whistle blow,” said senior Samir Doughty, “so we knew, if we made a few shots, we could be right back into the game. So we wasn't panicking whatsoever.”
Doughty led the Tigers with 26 points, and made five of his team’s season-high 18 3-pointers, while Devan Cambridge, who stepped up in Danjel Purifoy’s absence who was out with the flu, made seven for 21 points after failing to score in the last four games. The freshman finished 7 of 10 from behind the arc, setting a career high.
"Cambridge was the difference, just like he was against South Carolina,” LSU head coach Will Wade said. “I thought (Auburn's) guard play and Cambridge were tremendous."
Doughty, who had struggled earlier in conference play during the team’s two-game skid, scored in double figures for the sixth straight game and it was his third straight with 20 or more points.
“It's one of the better comebacks of my career because of what was at stake and just how much we were down late to such a good team in a championship-type game,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “I can’t think of many bigger.”
Trailing 71-63 with just over a minute left, McCormick sank three 3s in 20 seconds to cut the LSU lead to two. After missing the next attempt, the senior point guard chased Skylar Mays down, got a steal and threw it ahead to Doughty who finished at the rim in traffic to tie the game at 74 with 19 seconds left.
On the next possession, LSU’s Mays missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.
"He stepped up,” teammate Samir Doughty said of McCormick’s clutch performance. “That's what we expected. We wanted the ball in his hands. Coach [Bruce Pearl] wanted the ball in his hands, and he just delivered. He saved me at the end. I had that turnover late in overtime, and he scored a basket to win a game.”
After LSU scored first in overtime to take a 76-74 lead, Auburn answered with a 9-0 run, starting the extra period a perfect 3 for 3 from the 3-point line behind shots from Doughty and Cambridge in succession to put the Tigers up 83-76.
After a dominant showing down low from LSU’s frontcourt in the first half, Austin Wiley bounced back after the break with his ninth double-double of the season scoring 10 points and a grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. Nine of them came in the second half and Auburn finished with a 31-13 lead on the boards in the period.
Mays, who looked every bit the SEC Player of the Year candidate he is, led all scorers with 30 points and tallied eight assists and seven rebounds. Darius Days had 19 points before fouling out.
“It was a tough loss, but it was two really good teams slugging out and going against each other,” Wade said.
The Tigers return to Auburn Arena next week, hosting in-state rival Alabama Wednesday night.
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