75 - 81 Final
  for this game

Thornton leads LSU over Florida, to share of SEC title

Feb 25, 2009 - 6:42 AM BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Ticker) -- With Mardi Gras winding down, Marcus Thornton and upstart Louisiana State started trading in their beads for something a lot better - league titles.

Thornton scored 32 points as No. 18 Louisiana State continued its late-season roll, topping Florida, 81-75, in a Southeastern Conference game on Tuesday.

Garrett Temple had 21 points and Tasmin Mitchell added 12 and eight rebounds for the Tigers (24-4, 12-1 SEC West), who claimed a share of the SEC regular-season crown while notching their ninth straight win.

With a 3 1/2-game lead over SEC East-leading squads Kentucky and South Carolina with three games to play, LSU is closing in on its second outright league title in four years.

"We're trying to win the whole thing by ourselves," Temple said. "We're going to Lexington to play in front of a hostile crowd (on Saturday). Kentucky is Kentucky, but we're trying to win the whole SEC outright. Until we win the game, we won't consider ourselves the SEC champions."

LSU already captured the West division title following a 79-72 win over Auburn on Saturday - one of the Tigers' 12 consecutive victories in SEC play.

Using a 14-2 run at the midway point of the second half, LSU took control before holding off a run near the end by the Gators to remain one of the nation's hottest teams. Up until two weeks ago, the Tigers had not been apart of the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll this season.

"We had to play really well at halftime," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "We made a couple of adjustments to attack their zone because they had us out of rhythm. Basically, I just told them that they needed to start playing basketball because Florida's zone is based off of trying to get you think and not just react."

Walter Hodge scored 16 points and Alex Tyus 15 for Florida (21-7, 8-5 East), which dropped its fourth straight road game.

After scoring 15 points in the first half as LSU trailed, 41-37, at the break, Thornton hit a jumper and a 3-pointer in the first 1 1/2 minutes after intermission to give his team a 44-43 edge.

"I've gotten spoiled because Marcus (Thornton) can flat out play," Johnson said. "If there is a better two guard in the country other than the guy in Kentucky (Jodie Meeks), I'd like to see him. That is how I feel about Marcus Thornton."

The Gators, who were looking for their third straight win, did pull back ahead behind a 7-0 run and held a 56-53 lead with 12:05 remaining after Chandler Parsons completed a three-point play.

The Tigers, however, got five points from Temple on the 14-2 run that made it 67-58 with 8:01 to play. LSU still had a 77-69 lead with 31 seconds left after Thornton converted a pair of free throws.

Florida would not go away quietly though, as it grabbed two offensive rebounds off missed 3-pointers before Hodge hit a shot from the arc with 18 seconds remaining.

Thornton was sent back to the line and made two more free throws, wrapping up a 10-of-11 effort from the stripe.

"We knew Florida was going to come in and give it their best shot like all of the teams from here on out," Thornton said. "We weathered the storm.

"The first half we didn't play as well as we wanted. We came out in the second half and did everything we needed to do to win the game."

Hodge sank another 3-pointer to cut the Gators' deficit to 79-75 with eight seconds to play, but Temple sank two foul shots to seal the win for the Tigers.

Thornton finished 8-of-15 from the floor and 6-of-11 on 3-pointers in reaching 30 points for the sixth time this season.

"I wasn't really surprised with what Thornton was able to do," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "He really made some difficult shots and had a couple of wide-open looks that he couldn't knock down. I really thought he made some great shots."

Bo Spencer had nine points, six rebounds and six assists for LSU, which beat Florida for the third straight time.

Nick Calathes finished scored 12 points, pulled down seven boards and handed out six assists for the Gators, who ended up with a 17-3 advantage in bench points.