Tigers look for inside presence

With O'Bryant rounding into form, LSU tangles with Bulldogs looking for more progress.

Coming close a few weeks ago against Mississippi State might've been a step forward for LSU.

That was then, though.

Now the time for making progress has to manifest itself a little differently for the Tigers.

LSU (14-10, 4-6 SEC) entertains the Bulldogs (19-6, 6-4) at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

For the Tigers, it's another chance to take a step toward a potential late-season surge. Before they can get too excited, though, the first goal for LSU is simple.

Win two games in a row, something that hasn.t happened since SEC play began.

"It's all about building and as long as keep playing together, we're going to keep building," point guard Anthony Hickey said.

The Tigers lost at State 76-71 on Jan. 25 when a barrage of late 3-pointers left them just short of stunning come-from-behind victory.

Arnett Moultrie: 28 points and 12 rebounds in first game vs. LSU

That might be reason for some optimism with the talented but sometimes erratic Bulldogs. But what put LSU behind the 8-ball to begin with is also front and center.

Mississippi State's junior forward Arnett Moultrie (6-foot-11, 249 pounds) tormented the Tigers with 28 points and 12 rebounds and spearheaded a 46-26 domination on the backboards. He teams with 6-10, 280-pound junior Renardo Sidney for the most physically imposing front court in the SEC.

"They absolutely destroyed us on the glass," LSU coach Trent Johnson said.

"We have a challenge in front of us, and we need to play well."

The first meeting was freshman Johnny O'Bryant's first SEC game after he missed the first five while he recuperated from surgery for a broken hand. He came off the bench in the first game for 6 points and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes.

"Getting Johnny back gives them full depth inside," State coach Rick Stansbury said.

Since then, O'Bryant has averaged 10.3 and 8.8 rebounds a game and combines with Justin Hamilton to give LSU a tandem that stacks up well with Moultrie and Sidney.

Johnny O'Bryant: 17 points and 9 rebounds against Alabama on Saturday for his best game since returning from hand surgery

"This time around I know what they both can do and I l know what I have to do to have a big game against them," O'Bryant said. "You have to make sure you have a body on Arnett. He's a hard player to play."

Not that Arnett was alone in damaging the Tigers.

Senior point guard Dee Bost hit only one field goal against LSU, but was 7-for-10 from the free-throw line and dished out 10 assists.

That was Hickey's first head-to-head meeting with one of the SEC's most veteran playmaking guards and he said he learned from the matchup.

Hickey is coming off a game in which he put up only two shots, but recorded 5 assists. In the game before he had no assists but launched 16 shots.

While Johnson doesn't specifically rein Hickey in, the LSU coach said they have spoken about what he wants from his point guard.

Hickey has 93 assists this season, sixth in the league and his 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio is third in the SEC.

Anthony Hickey: Eager for a second chance against Bulldogs' veteran Dee Bost.

"A good point guard play is measured off of wins," Johnson said. "I don't talk to him about shots. I talk to him about his decisions. I talk to him about keeping everybody involved."

Hickey buried three of LSU's four 3-pointers in a 1:53 stretch in the first game with State, but he also lost the ball in the closing seconds when the Tigers had a chance to look for a game-tying 3.

For the Tigers to have a shot against the Bulldogs this time around, it's likely Hickey will have to be more playmaker than shooter.

Instead of relying on the 11 3-pointers LSU jacked in against State before, Hamilton, O'Bryant and reserve big men Storm Warren and Malcolm White have to show up better against Moultrie and Sidney.

The Bulldogs only play seven players, so dictating a tempo that forces them to play defense in the half-court could be a major advantage.

"In (the first) game, we took quick shots," Johnson said. "We took quick shots in a couple of crucial situations, and they ran out on us. It was like a dunk fest for them.

"To start the game and midway through the second half when they got a lead, when we ran our stuff, executed, set good screens, played within ourselves and played with each other, then we had some success."

John Isaac: Re-emerged with 6 points in 10 minutes against Alabama

The third member of LSU's freshman class, John Isaac, could also play a key role against the Bulldogs.

After missing most of two games as he navigated some academic problems, the 6-3 Isaac bounced back with a solid 10-minute stint against Alabama when he scored 6 points and helped shore up the Tigers' perimeter defense.

If Isaac can spell Hickey and Andre Stringer, that frees up Ralston Turner to defend 6-8 Rodney Hood, with Eddie Ludwig as a backup. Warren is also quick enough to spend time defending Hood, who notched 13 points vs. LSU in January.

"This is a game where we need him to help us defensively because we're going to have to guard them with nine or 10 guys," Johnson said. "This is not a game where a guy like Ralston, a guy like Eddie or any of our post guys can be out here for long extended periods of time."

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