ATLANTA, Ga. – For the second straight December, Holiday Hoopsgiving was good to LSU at State Farm Arena, as the Tigers’ senior point guard Justice “Juice” Hill drove an open lane and scored with 2.1 seconds left to give LSU a 72-70 comeback win over Wake Forest Saturday afternoon.
LSU (8-1) rallied in Atlanta for the second-straight season in the event after having a four-point halftime deficit a year ago to defeat Georgia Tech. Today, LSU came back from a 20-point first-half deficit to completely flip the game, taking a five-point advantage, 58-53, with 11:38 to play.
Wake Forest (7-3) would come back to take a three-point lead as the game entered its final six minutes, 62-59, before the teams swapped leads with Wake Forest tying the game at 70-70 on a free throw with 1:13 to play.
In the final minute with the game tied, LSU missed a layup and Wake Forest missed a top of the key three-pointer. KJ Williams got the rebound and LSU brought the ball up court, calling timeout with 15 seconds to play.
Hill took the inbounds, dribbled around, faked to his left taking his defender out of the play, spun back and drove almost uncontested for the winning points with 2.1 seconds to play and a 72-70 lead.
Wake Forest, having to go the length of the floor, elected to go for the long pass to the other end where Derek Fountain came up with the steal to end the game and send the Tigers back to Baton Rouge happy.
Highlighting the Tigers effort was an impressive 35-point performance by fifth-year senior KJ Williams. Williams, who recorded the second 30-point game of the season for LSU, and his second highest collegiate scoring game, hit 14-of-21 field goals, including an impressive 7-of-9 from the arc. Williams also had 10 rebounds giving him his 30th career college double double.
“(KJ) was fantastic,” said Coach Matt McMahon on his LSU Sports Radio Network postgame interview. “We wanted to try to space the floor and use KJ out on the perimeter as a weapon. he stepped up and delivered. You are talking about a guy that has scored almost 2,000 points in college. We expect big things from him and he was first class today.”
Cam Hayes off the bench had 13 points, six assists and no turnovers, while Derek Fountain, who got his first LSU start on Saturday, had 11 points. Hill’s winning points were just his fourth of the game, but he finished with six assists and no turnovers.
Justice Williams, who had been out for the past five games after an ankle injury, returned to play Saturday and played 17 minutes, posting five assists and two assists.
LSU for the first time all season was in single digits in turnovers with just seven and grabbed 21 points off the 15 Wake Forest turnovers.
The Demon Deacons looked like they were going to have their way with things in the early going of the contest after LSU jumped out to a 5-0 lead and 8-3 in the first three minutes.
Over the next four minutes, Wake Forest, which shot over 60 percent for over half of the opening 20 minutes, scored 17 straight points and pushed a lead out to 20-8. An 8-0 run later on would make the lead 30-12, and eventually, 39-19, with 4:16 to go in the opening half.
However, the Tigers were far from rolling over. LSU would go on to score the next 11 points to get the lead down to nine at 39-30 and went into the dressing room trailing by just eight, 41-33.
“That was an awesome win. I’m supposed to sit here and give you some coach speak, but wow that was awesome,” said Coach McMahon. “I’m so proud of our guys. We kept talking in the huddle there, down 20, seemed like we might not even have a pulse today, just stay positive and try to find a way to chip away at this deal. There are no 20-point shots out there, we needed to get locked in and play better defense. Offensively, I thought we had some good opportunities at the rim in the first half that we just didn’t finish. We shot well from three, but atrocious from two. Then obviously the performance from KJ Williams. There were other guys that were fantastic today with their effort and energy. Those are things that are more important to me than X’s and O’s.”
LSU fell behind again by 11, 47-36, with 18:24 to go in the game but the Tigers pushed again and KJ Williams went two-point, three-point, three-point makes to cut the lead to three, 47-44, before Hayes hit a three off a KJ Williams pass to tie the game at 47-47 with 16:40 to play.
In the second half from that point there were five ties and seven lead changes as the teams battled it out down the stretch.
Wake Forest star Tyree Appleby had a good game with 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting with two treys and Matthew Marsh had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Cameron Hildreth had 12 points. The Demon Deacons out rebounded LSU, 37-30.
Wake Forest shot 50.9 percent (28-of-55) from the field, but just 5-of-24 from the arc (20.8%). LSU shot 43.8 percent (28-of-54), but had a season high 10 three pointers (10-of-26, 38.5%). The Tigers did not have a good day at the free throw line, making just 6-of-15 at the stripe.
“We are still learning about our team. Everyone is new. Rotations and all that will evolve as we go,” said Coach McMahon. “Today, Cam Hayes and Derek Fountain just incredible in their effort. I thought Justice Williams was just so solid for us. We had more playmakers on the floor. They got the ball where it needed to go.”
The Tigers return to the Maravich Center for two games this week against NC Central on Tuesday and Winthrop on Dec. 17. Both games will have an earlier start time of 6 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network and the SEC Network. Tickets are available online at LSUTix.net and at the LSU Athletic Ticket Office during normal business hours on Monday and Tuesday.
(LSU Athletics Media Release)