LSU basketball is taking on water

Consecutive losses to Mississippi State and Auburn have left LSU in a tough spot. As TSD publisher Ben Love writes, the Tigers may have dug a hole they can't climb out of this season.

The boat sprang a leak in Starkville, but after Thursday night it's in danger of going under.

LSU followed up its loss at Mississippi State over the weekend with a home setback at the hands of Auburn, 81-77. Bruce Pearl's Plainsmen were below .500 on the season coming into the game and hadn't won on the road in seven tries.

Their triumph in Baton Rouge leaves the talented but confounding Bayou Bengals at 16-6 overall, 5-4 in the SEC. It has also pushed LSU's season to the brink, where postseason hopes have been replaced with more pressing – but basic – concerns, like inbounding the basketball or cutting off driving lanes.

The home-standing Tigers allowed Auburn, which came in averaging 66.7 points and only 62.5 points during a four-game losing streak, to explode for 81, the second-highest total in conference play for War Eagle.

"I'm definitely surprised (with our defensive effort)," leveled junior guard Keith Hornsby. "I don't know why it wasn't (there). It's one of the hardest things to (explain). I don't understand it because I know how much we really do care. So when we give them open shots, maybe it's a communication thing. But that's something we focus on in practice, so there's no reason we shouldn't do it in a game."

Things weren't quite as bad offensively, but most of the key indicators of efficiency and, as head coach Johnny Jones likes to put it, "valuing possessions," were telling in the loss.

Auburn, which led for 32 of 40 minutes, benefited from LSU shooting often and poorly from beyond the arc and, as is customary, turning the ball over with regularity. Jones' crew made only four of 17 attempts from three, checking in at 23.5%, and turned it over 15 times, including a combined 11 giveaways from sophomore forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.

This fact, and the notion that Martin and Mickey saved themselves defensively to avoid fouls, irked Jones following the ballgame.

"They don’t play with the edge that they need to throughout," Jones explained of his top two players. "In this game, you have to play and allow the refs to officiate. You have to play smart. That can put us in a bind because people will go at you a certain way and have some easy scoring opportunities. You can’t save yourself out there. You have to play every second, and you have to be accountable for your play as well."

Jones didn't stop there.

The third-year head coach and former LSU player took his team as a whole to task, promising changes in the way practices are conducted and even in personnel selections.

"We felt like, because of some of the success that we had early, that these guys may have been growing up," continued Jones. "Unfortunately, we’ve got to change some of our habits and the way that we do things to make sure that we keep their attention and that we’re not in our comfort zone."

Answering a follow-up question, Jones got even more specific.

"We've got to address it [the lack of energy]," said Jones. "We've got guys too comfortable, and we've probably got to make some changes.

"You've got to be passionate about it and play with an edge ... The team we played tonight played desperate and were comfortable doing it. We've got to go back to a situation where these guys (compete like) it's a war or battle out there."

While LSU's coach passed the buck on to his players, several Tigers did acknowledge how poorly the team has played of late, underperforming versus subpar competition and putting the season in jeopardy.

"You could say that (this is the lowest point of the season)," admitted Hornsby. "We have a game on Saturday, no time to keep our heads low. We've got to bounce back. Hopefully we revamp our energy and have a different head on our shoulders. We need a different energy, different motivation."

In Quarterman's eyes LSU's two recent losses were unforeseeable.

"I'd have looked at you crazy," the sophomore guard said when asked how he'd have reacted a week ago at the suggestion LSU would lose to Mississippi State and Auburn back-to-back.

But that's exactly what transpired.

And, in the midst of a nightmarish stretch for Jones & Co., a home date with Alabama Saturday is followed up by a visit Tuesday from Kentucky, college basketball's big bad wolf in 2015.

Any hope LSU has of righting the ship now rests squarely on springing the upset in that contest.

But, with the captain blaming his hands on the poop deck and those hands unsure of their motivation, it's more likely I use a sailing metaphor properly than LSU beats the undefeated, top-ranked Wildcats.

Water is coming in quickly, and, perhaps for the first time this season, there's no real sense that LSU's going to be able to bail it out of the boat in time.

Or, maybe better put, LSU's giving no reason to believe this team is any different than its predecessors the past three years – middle-of-the-road.

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