Herb Jones did not win the game single-handedly.
The junior forward from Greensboro was, however, the single greatest factor in Alabama’s 88-84 win over No. 25 LSU, whether measured by impact or inspiration.
Jones, still playing with an SEC-approved cast on his fractured left wrist, scored six points and grabbed 17 rebounds along with his usual stellar defensive effort. And his two free throws with 1:37 remaining — made with his right hand, even though he is a natural left-hander — may be the memorable moment of the entire 2020 season.
“I’m sitting here getting chills thinking about it,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said, “I got chills when it happened, the way the crowd responded.
“We’ve got to draw a line in the sand. Are we going to keep losing close games or are we going to do what it takes to win them? We made the plays to win tonight.”
The ending did turn harrowing. Alabama had a 14-point lead, 73-59, with 5:47 to play but guard Kira Lewis was on the bench after picking up his fourth foul 30 seconds earlier. LSU then went on an 11-2 run before Lewis could get back in the game at the media time out with 3:05 to play. A minute later, a critical Alabama turnover after a Trendon Watford basket led to a 3-pointer and the Crimson Tide lead was 77-75 with two minutes remaining, a scenario only too familiar to Alabama fans this season.
Then, the clutch plays that had eluded UA in similar situation started happening. First came Jones’ crowd-shaking free throw to make it 79-75. Skyler Mays, who scored 24 points to lead LSU, answered that with a 3-pointer and the lead was down to one point. Jaden Shackelford answered that with one of his five 3-pointers to make it 82-78. Two Emmitt Williams free throws cut the lead to two with 1:10 remaining.
Perhaps the game’s biggest single sequence came after that, when LSU blocked a Kira Lewis shot. The loose ball went to Alabama’s Alex Reese and the junior forward hit the dagger, a 3-pointer that made it 85-80. LSU missed on its next trip, Shackelford broke free for a layup and the issue was settled.
Lewis led all scorers with 27 points and was 4-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc, part of an effort that saw Alabama break the school single-season record for 3-pointers made (269) with at least seven games remaining. Shackelford added 26 for the Crimson Tide.
Jones’ 17 rebounds was easily a career high, two weeks after wrist surgery.
“I just go out every night and try to help my team win,” Jones said. “I knew I was going to be short-handed on offense, so I had to find another way. So every time they shot the back, I just crashed the boards.”
“(Jones) was an absolute warrior,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “He’s a great kid. He and Trendon Watford are best friends. To come out and do that for his team, hopefully that will help them get into the NCAA Tournament.”
Watford, LSU’s freshman forward from Mountain Brook, heard dissent as to his college decision, particularly the Alabama student section. He finished with 18 points and four rebounds but Wade acknowledged that Watford “might have been trying too hard.”
“I think he wanted to play well, maybe too much,” Wade said. “I’d say that’s fair.”
Alabama (14-10, 6-6 SEC) will be back in action Wednesday night, hosting Texas A&M.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter, @cecilhurt