NEW ORLEANS — Johnny O'Bryant picked an opportune time to get his sloppy ball-handling under control and transform back into the dominant inside force that LSU needs him to be.
O'Bryant scored 18 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and added only two turnovers to his team-leading total for the season, and LSU pulled away in the second half for a 70-54 victory over Arkansas in the opening game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday.
O'Bryant scored 12 of his points during the final 20 minutes and finished with 10 points from the free-throw line. But for all his dominance, it was his relative lack of turnovers that pleased LSU coach Trent Johnson most. O'Bryant had 59 turnovers during the regular season.
Storm Warren scored 14 for LSU (18-13), which had ended its regular season with a three-game skid but rediscovered its offense in time to open the postseason with a convincing victory. The Tigers' reward is a second-round game today against No. 1 Kentucky (30-1), which has won 22 straight.
Alabama 63, South Carolina 57
Trevor Lacey scored 15 points, JaMychal Green added 12 and Alabama played lockdown defense in the final six minutes to beat South Carolina in the opening round Thursday.
The fifth-seeded Crimson Tide led for most of the game, but South Carolina tied it at 51 on the second of back-to-back 3-pointers by Brenton Williams with 6:38 remaining. Alabama (21-10) then held 12th-seeded South Carolina (10-21) scoreless for more than five minutes and did enough on offense to ease past the Gamecocks.
South Carolina lost 11 of 12 games. Alabama advances to play Florida today.
Mississippi 68, Auburn 54
Nick Williams scored a career-high 22 points, and Mississippi defeated Auburn in the first round Thursday night.
Williams, whose previous career-high was 21, was 9-of-14 shooting and drained four 3-pointers. Murphy Holloway added 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Rebels (19-12), who have won four straight and might be able to make a case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament should they upset Tennessee in their second-round game tonight.
Frankie Sullivan scored 15 points for Auburn (15-16), which lost on the same day the NCAA acknowledged that federal investigators are looking into point-shaving allegations against suspended Tigers guard Varez Ward.
Georgia vs. Miss. St. (Late)