No. 21 Villanova uses reserve's burst, shot at end to overcome LSU

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Villanova was crazed. LSU was dazed.

No one on either side could remember a comeback
-- or a collapse -- like this one.

Malcolm Grant converted a four-point play and scored 13 points over the final three minutes, and Dante Cunningham scored the game-winner with 5.9 seconds left as the Wildcats (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) rallied from a 21-point deficit to stun LSU 68-67 on Thursday night in the Big East/SEC Invitational.

Villanova's only lead came on the shot that mattered most: the Wildcats' last one.

"That," said an exhausted Villanova coach Jay Wright, "was unbelievable."

No one was more unbelievable than Grant, a 6-foot reserve freshman guard who came in averaging 7.2 points a game. He scored seven points in 24 seconds to jolt a Villanova (6-1) team that seemingly had lost its shot, its confidence and the game.

LSU (5-3) dominated almost the entire game and most of the crowd had started to leave. Instead, Villanova gave those who stuck around one to remember, rallying from the 21-point lead over the final eight minutes.

"I've never, in my life, in 32 years of coaching, had a team do that," LSU coach John Brady said. "I hurt for our players."

The Wildcats return to the Top 25 appeared short-lived. Their shooting absolutely deserted them from all over the court and their starting backcourt couldn't hit anything. Even the normally loyal, wine-and-cheese Wildcat faithful had turned on their favorite team with boos.

Enter Grant.

He converted a four-point play and came right back down and hit another 3-pointer that cut LSU's lead to 56-53. The Wildcats forced a turnover at midcourt and scored a layup and suddenly they had a pulse.

Grant made four more free throws that pulled the Wildcats within three. Then he was amazingly fouled again on a 3-point attempt. This time the basket was no good, but he made all three from the line and LSU, which had led 54-33, was clinging to a 67-66 lead.

Grant tried to win it for the Wildcats on their last possession, but he missed a shot from the right side. Cunningham was there with the rebound layup that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

"I just crashed and got the loose ball in my hands," Cunningham said.

Added Grant: "We didn't play the way Coach wanted us to, but we got the win and that's the important thing."

Wright was about the only one watching who wasn't surprised by Grant's breakout night or the grit his Wildcats showed in climbing back from their biggest deficit of the season.

"We showed great heart and Malcolm was incredible," Wright said. "I can't ever remember winning like that. They had us."

Grant finished with 18 points and Cunningham had 16 points and 12 rebounds.

Marcus Thornton led LSU with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Terry Martin hit four 3s to help the Tigers build the early lead and finished with 14 points.

LSU had 14 blocked shots.

"We had the game in our hands to win it," Brady said. "We didn't do the things that were necessary. We don't know how to win yet. That was obvious tonight."

Certainly, it wasn't obvious early.

Villanova played fast and loose with the ball -- four turnovers in the first four minutes, seven in the half -- and missed 15 of its first 20 shots. The guard play that has long been a strength under Wright went missing. The Wildcats got 12 straight points in one stretch out of the frontcourt and their defense left LSU's 3-point shooters wide open.

Martin had already hit two 3s and no Wildcat was anywhere near him when he nailed one from the left side for a 32-18 lead. The Tigers led 35-24 at halftime.

When the Wildcats trailed by 14 points early in the second half, Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding were a combined 3-for-19.

LSU seemed to thwart any hope of a late rally. Martin hit a jumper just inside the 3-point line midway through the second half, then came right back and made one from behind the line to push LSU's lead to 54-33.

The Wildcats managed to chip away and make it 55-41, but Garrett Temple hit a 3 and then a driving layup for a 19-point lead.

That was the last time LSU could celebrate.

"Any team that loses, doesn't deserve to win," Brady said.