March 14, 2014 11:10:48 AM
ATLANTA -- The LSU men's basketball team is willing to talk about its NCAA tournament chances.
The Tigers know they must keep winning to bring others into that conversation.
Shavon Coleman scored 15 points on five 3-pointers and LSU preserved its slim NCAA hopes by beating Alabama 68-56 on Thursday in the second round of the SEC tournament.
Tim Quarterman had 12 points and Johnny O'Bryant added 11 for the Tigers, who pulled ahead with a 13-0 run in the first half. The Tigers shot 50 percent from the floor and beyond the arc (11 of 22).
LSU (19-12) likely needs to win the SEC tournament to make the NCAA field. The Tigers have an unimpressive RPI of 74, one spot behind Georgia, another NCAA longshot from the SEC.
"We need to string a few more (wins) together to make a significant step and put ourselves in the conversation," LSU coach Johnny Jones said.
LSU will play Kentucky today in the SEC quarterfinals.
"When you see Kentucky, you always get amped up," said LSU's Anthony Hickey, a native of Hopkinsville, Ky.
LSU and Kentucky split two regular-season games, with the Tigers winning in Baton Rouge and losing 77-76 in overtime at Kentucky.
Trevor Releford and Shannon Hale both had 11 points to lead Alabama (13-19). Levi Randolph had 10.
Alabama coach Anthony Grant called the loss "a tough way to end our season."
"As a program, we're trying to get where we can compete for championships," Grant said. "I thought our guys all year long continued to fight. Unfortunately, the outcome, the results, weren't what we wanted them to be."
Jordan Mickey had nine points and a game-high 11 rebounds for LSU.
Alabama took a 21-18 lead on a 3-pointer by Randolph. LSU's Quarterman and O'Bryant scored back-to-back inside baskets, followed by Quarterman's 3-pointer, to launch the 13-0 run by the Tigers for a 31-21 lead.
Including a follow jam by Quarterman and a jumper by Jordan Mickey, LSU closed the half with a 17-3 run to lead 35-24 at halftime.
Alabama won two of its last three games of the regular season by depending on strong defense. The Crimson Tide allowed only 56.7 points per game during that span, and the Alabama defense was focused on containing O'Bryant.
The powerful O'Bryant (6-9, 256) averaged 15.6 points and 7.9 rebounds in the regular season, but the Alabama defense collapsed around the junior every time he touched the ball in the first half. O'Bryant was limited to four points in the half.
LSU forced a turnover as Alabama tried to pass inside to O'Bryant to open the second half, setting up a 3-pointer by the Crimson Tide's Hale. Releford sank two free throws to cut the LSU lead to six points at 35-29. A free throw by O'Bryant and a 3-pointer by Jarell Martin, who had 10 points, quickly pushed the lead back to 10 points.
O'Bryant sank an open jumper to give LSU its big lead at 47-35. The Tigers led by nine points before Coleman and Stringer sank back-to-back 3s for a 65-50 lead.
"It was a tough, hard-fought battle," Jones said. "I thought our guys played well on both ends of the floor."
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