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LSU clinches SEC West with win over Auburn

Feb 22, 2009 - 5:25 AM BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Ticker) -- Louisiana State has come full circle in just a few years in the Southeastern Conference.

Marcus Thornton scored 25 points to lead five Louisiana State players in double figures as the 24th-ranked Tigers clinched the SEC Western division title with a 79-72 victory over Auburn on Saturday.

Tasmin Mitchell and Bo Spencer each scored 14 points for LSU (23-4, 11-1 SEC West), which has won eight straight games. The Tigers own a four-game lead over Mississippi State (7-5) with four games to play, but LSU swept the season series to give them the head-to-head tiebreaker.

"We just want to win the next game," first-year LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "I'm happy with the way this team has handled the situation with everything that's surrounding them. It's like tonight after the game, they were very subdued and very relaxed."

After making the Final Four in 2006, LSU finished in last place in the SEC West during the 2006-07 campaign and struggled to a 13-18 overall record last season - which cost coach John Brady his job.

But the Tigers, who are currently the SEC's lone ranked team, are back on top this season under Johnson.

Auburn (17-10, 6-6) led, 56-52, midway through the second half but LSU answered with an 8-0 run to take the lead for good.

LSU maintained its slim lead and Chris Johnson's dunk extended the advantage to 71-66 with 1:52 to play. Auburn was able to close within three a number of times but never had the ball with a chance to tie as LSU went 8-for-8 from the foul line in the final minute of play. LSU was 21-of-22 from the stripe for the contest.

"We have a pretty good cushion in the SEC, so we know that whatever team comes in going to give us their best shot," Temple said. "Auburn was really hot and we just wanted to keep our streak going and play good basketball. We got away from it at the end of the first half, but picked it up in the second half and knocked down free throws to put them away."

Korvotney Barber scored 19 points and Tay Waller added 17 for Auburn, which had its four-game winning streak snapped.

"LSU is a very physical team offensively and defensively and we spent most of the night on our rear ends close to the buckets and that was another factor in the game," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. I liked the way we were aggressive though and I like that out of my team."

Auburn was outrebounded, 41-29, and only shot 7-of-13 from the free-throw line.

"Free throws have been hurting us all season," Waller said. "Coach said we have to hit free throws to win games and we didn't hit them. That really hurt us down the stretch and that's what cost us the game."

LSU made eight of its first 10 shots and held an 18-8 lead less than six minutes into the game.

Auburn fought back and, although it never took the lead, only trailed, 36-33, at the break. LSU shot 55 percent (17-of-31) in the first half.

Spencer opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Thornton scored a layup, pushing the LSU advantage to 41-33. But Auburn came back to tie the score at 50-50 on Lucas Hargrove's 3-pointer with 13:02 remaining.

Auburn went in front, 56-52, as Waller made back-to-back jumpers but LSU took control from there.

"We played very, very well at times and at other times and at times we looked like we weren't playing that well - but (Auburn) had everything to do with that," Trent Johnson said. "(I told our team) we're going to have to execute and make good, solid plays and for the most part tonight we did enough to win."