Beat On The Boards

FAYETTEVILLE — Most spectators who witnessed LSU rally past Arkansas on Wednesday night left Bud Walton Arena with a sense of why the Razorbacks couldn't hold an 18-point lead.

Those who weren't among the estimated crowd of 13,579 need only listen to LSU 6-foot-7 power forward Tasmin Mitchell.

After the 23rd-ranked Tigers fought back to devastate Arkansas 72-69, handing the Hogs their 10th loss in 11 games, Mitchell elaborated on how LSU won its seventh straight contest.

"Man, we were just more aggressive on the boards than them," said Mitchell, a junior. "That's basically all that needs to be said. We just wanted to attack the boards, and that's what won the game — offensive rebounds."

In many ways, despite shooting only 34.4 percent in the first half, the Razorbacks outplayed the Southeastern Conference Western Division leaders. Arkansas (13-11, 1-10) scored the game's first seven points and stormed to an early 28-10 lead.

But repeatedly, the Hogs couldn't find ways to keep Mitchell and 6-11 senior center Chris Johnson from snagging offensive rebounds. Mitchell and Johnson finished with 25 rebounds, 13 of them offensive, and encountered little resistance in attacking the offensive glass.

Arkansas assistant coach Tom Ostrom even said that with a couple more rebounds, the Razorbacks would've had "a chance to probably win the game." LSU outrebounded Arkansas 41-34.

"Johnson's so long and athletic and used his length, and Mitchell's sort of a bull in a china shop," said Ostrom, speaking to reporters because coach John Pelphrey had bronchitis. "Those guys are tough to handle. They're older. They're experienced. They've been through it."

The Razorbacks weathered LSU's initial rally and extended their advantage to 61-52 after twice losing the lead early in the second half. Arkansas' last bucket, however, came at the 5:05 mark on Michael Sanchez's three-point play that put the Razorbacks up 68-61.

And as Arkansas faltered offensively — "we just didn't convert," Courtney Fortson said — LSU (22-4, 10-1) grabbed timely rebounds down the stretch. Johnson's putback got LSU to within 68-66, and with the Tigers leading 70-69, they nabbed two more important boards.

Mitchell rebounded his own miss and drew a foul with 16.2 seconds left. He missed the first free throw, but Garrett Temple emerged with the ball and LSU's 20th offensive rebound. Marcus Thornton then knocked down two free throws.

Rotnei Clarke's 3-point attempt with a few seconds remaining clanked off the front of the rim, finalizing Arkansas' fifth SEC home loss this season.

"We knew going in they were a real tough team, a real athletic team up front," Sanchez said. "As far as the big men go, we knew they'd be crashing the boards hard."

Arkansas knew, but just couldn't stop LSU, Mitchell and Johnson especially. For a while, it didn't matter. Clarke's 12 early points helped Arkansas stun its visitors with the 28-10 start; the 6-foot freshman had the last nine points of a 19-4 spurt.

Clarke pump-faked and nailed a 3-pointer, then stole the ball from Temple and scored on a tough lefty layup and eventual three-point play. His between-the-leg dribble and step-back 3 capped the run, inducing the loudest crowd roar of the evening.

"We had a lot of energy on both sides of floor," Clarke said. "We were playing together really well as a team, and we were flying around and showing some passion."

LSU wasn't fazed, though, Thornton said.

"We've been in that position before," said Thornton, who led all scorers with 28 points.

Mitchell and Johnson spurred LSU's first half-closing 16-4 run, which came with Michael Washington, Sanchez and Clarke on the bench with two fouls. As a result, Pelphrey opened nearly his entire bench, giving 10 players action by the 8:17 mark.

And the Tigers' post duo promptly took advantage, seemingly discarding any of Arkansas' remaining three freshman post players with ease. Mitchell and Johnson combined for 16 points and 13 rebounds (6 offensive) before halftime.

Arkansas did nothing to stifle them in the second half, either.

"Defense needs to end with a rebound," Ostrom said. "Our guys' effort and toughness were there. We just couldn't finish the defensive possession. That will kill you."

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