STARKVILLE, Miss. – From all appearances, LSU had given everything it had to stick close to 18th-ranked Mississippi State Wednesday night, but the Tigers simply didn’t have enough firepower.
So when Bulldogs’ star Arnett Moultrie threw down a slam dunk on a follow shot with 3:11 to go right before the final media timeout and the lead swelled to double digits, it sure seemed like that was the final nail.
Except it wasn’t.
Instead, the feisty Tigers came out of their corner fighting and very nearly staged a miraculous comeback before some late controversy ended those hopes in a 76-71 loss at Humphrey Coliseum.
Down 68-59 after State point guard Dee Bost hit one of two free throws with 1:52 left in the game, LSU barreled back with four 3-pointers in the span of 52.7 seconds – three by freshman Anthony Hickey – to climb all the way back within 72-71.
After the last of Hickey’s treys kissed off the glass and rattled in, though, Bulldogs’ guard Jalen Steele swished a pair of charities and forced the Tigers into a situation where they had to make one last 3 in the closing 12.9 seconds to force overtime.
That never happened because LSU never got a shot off.
On the ensuing possession after a State timeout, Hickey brought the ball down the floor, dribbled past midcourt and to his left where he was double-teamed by Bost and Moultrie. In a sudden flurry where it appeared there was some contact – and with Tigers’ center Justin Hamilton spotted up on the wing for a wide-open 3-pointer – Bost swatted the ball away from Hickey to Moultrie who swooped in for a fast break layup.
Hickey recovered in time to foul Moultrie, and as the play unfolded Tigers’ coach Trent Johnson stormed onto the floor and drew a technical foul. Moultrie made 2-of-4 foul shots to ice the win.
Afterward, an emotional Johnson stepped carefully as he talked about the play that prevented a chance for a final shot.
“It’s really hard when you don’t have a phony bone in your body and have to be politically correct,” Johnson said. “I can’t fault the way our kids fought and kept battling back. Mississippi State dominated us on the glass. We had a hard time putting a body on them. A lot of our guys lost their aggressiveness and got a little tentative.”
When a question was asked specifically about the last play and Johnson’s reaction, he remained composed.
“When you have good kids and they fight and they compete and there’s stuff going on out there that you don’t like and you know what’s going on, you struggle with it,” he said. “I’m not going to get caught up in that.”
Of the last play, Hickey said he was looking to either get the ball to Hamilton or perhaps get the ball back for a look at a 3-pointer.
“I got doubled and tried to throw it to Justin and the ball got a little bouncy and I wasn’t able to get it to him,” said Hickey, who scored 16 points and dished out 6 assists.
“I was supposed to come off the ball screen, but they doubled me and I got hit a couple of times, but you don’t always get that call.”
|Justin Hamilton and the LSU defense couldn't stop Arnett Moultrie, who erupted for 28 points and 12 rebounds.|
As dazzling as the late-game heroics were, LSU (12-8, 2-4 SEC) found itself in the double-digit hole because of some familiar problems at the outset of the second half and the inability to solve Moultrie inside.
The Tigers trailed 32-31 at halftime after Moultrie came up with a steal and a transition layup with 3 seconds to go before the break.
Whether that was a shot in the arm for State or not, the Bulldogs (17-4, 4-2) came out and seized command.
Hamilton put LSU back in front with a follow shot 52 seconds into the second period, but that was one of just two field goals the Tigers connected on in their first 12 attempts. Meanwhile, State started rolling with nine unanswered points igniting a 15-2 surge.
Moultrie and Rodney Hood did much of the damage, alternating between inside work by Moultrie (8 points) and Hood’s fast-break success (4 points). Enigmatic big man Renardo Sidney also drained a 3 in the burst – his only points in 19 minutes – and by the time the dust settled, the Bulldogs were in front 45-33.
Andre Stringer put the Tigers on his shoulders with eight straight points on a pair of 3s and a nice dribble-drive layup to shrink the lead back to 49-46 at the 11:02 juncture.
The two teams stayed in that range for the next 3½ minutes until Moultrie again took over.
On his way to a 28-point, 12-rebound performance, Moultrie scored nine of the Bulldogs’ next 11 points in a methodical stretch when the nudged the lead back to 67-57, culminating with Moultrie’s stick-back slam.
Thanks in large part to Moultrie and reserve forward Wendell Lewis, State thoroughly dominated LSU on the backboards, 46-26. Even more telling were the Tigers’ meager 8 offensive caroms on a night when they didn’t creep over 40% shooting from the floor until the flurry of four 3-pointers in the closing 1:08.
“LSU leads the league in offensive rebounds, so that is the stat that saved us,” State coach Rick Stansbury. “This was one of those games that you just have to find a way out.”
Johnson praised the Bulldogs’ efforts on the glass, but hinted there was more to it.
LSU’s energetic forward Storm Warren was limited to 11 first-half minutes after drawing a second foul and wound up with one board, none on offense. He and freshman Johnny O’Bryant – making his SEC debut after working through a hand injury – spent most of the time checking Moultrie and the Tigers’ duo wound up with only 5 rebounds between them.
“There’s a reason,” Johnson said. “Sometimes you can’t be aggressive in terms of what goes on out there and you have to make adjustments. I just want a clarification so I can help my kids, that’s all.”
Clarified or not, the bottom-line result was another road loss for LSU, the fourth in a row in league play this season. The Tigers have lost four of five games overall and don’t get much relief Saturday when top-ranked Kentucky (20-1, 6-0) visits Baton Rouge for a 3 p.m. contest.
“We don’t feel good about losing,” Johnson said. “We’ve played four games on the road, and with the exception of Alabama (69-53 loss), if we make plays we can, we win any one of them. That’s a hurt group. I feel for them because they fought. They were in a situation where they could’ve won that basketball game. You want some consistency in what goes on out there.”
|O'Bryant: 6 points and 4 rebounds in his SEC debut.|
Stringer came off the bench to pace the Tigers with 17 points. Hamilton was limited to 11 points and 5 rebounds and took only eight shots from the floor.
O’Bryant was a spark in his first action in three weeks with 6 points and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes.
“He played well,” Johnson said. “He played well in practice (Tuesday). He helps us. He can play. For him to not have been out there for a while and to be able to play in a high-level game like this for 20 minutes, he played well.”