Tigers baffled by Bulldog "Zone"

Being in the zone is usually considered a good thing.<br><br> However, the LSU Tigers found themselves in the wrong zone Saturday as the Tigers could not escape Mississippi State's 2-3 configuration. <br><br> Although LSU fought back from a 12-point halftime deficit, the Bulldogs (14-1, 3-1 SEC) throttled the Tigers' surging offense down the stretch defeating John Brady's club 64-54.

"I was proud of our team in the second half and the way it was able to battle back after getting ourselves in a hole," Brady said.


The loss snapped LSU's 13-game winning streak on its home floor in front 10,529 fans, the largest crowd of the season.


"We were able to get their zone unbalanced (in the second half) and were able to move the ball and get some penetration and make some threes and get some open looks at the goal," Brady said.


That was in the second half, though. The first half was a smorgasbord of turnovers, missed shots and frustration as Mississippi State's zone squeezed the life out of LSU on the offensive end of the floor. The Bulldogs limited the Tigers (12-2, 2-1 SEC) to a mere five, first-half field goals and a season-low 15 points. However, LSU's defense played well enough minimizing State to a paltry 30-percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes and a 27-15 advantage.


"We had 12 turnovers and gave them nine offensive rebounds in the first half," Brady said. "The first thing I said in the locker room at halftime was we are down 12 points."


The Bulldogs took a quick 6-0 lead off back-to-back treys by Winsome Frazier and Shane Power. But the Tigers answered the bell with six of their own off consecutive buckets by Brandon Bass and Jaime Lloreda. Bass pitched in a pair of free throws knotting the score at 6-6 with 15:14 left in the first half.


Unfortunately, that would be LSU's last points until Darrel Mitchell's acrobatic layup with 8:01 remaining before halftime. Mitchell's bucket was also LSU's first field goal in 8:24. The Tigers would not net another basket until Bass pounded home a layup at the 2:06 mark.


"We weren't making shots," said junior guard Antonio Hudson. "I think they had 33 shots at the goal in the first half and we had 19, and then we would turn the ball over too. That was giving them easy shots and easy attempts."


Mississippi State's largest lead of the first half came with 5:06 left as the Bulldogs held a commanding 27-8 advantage. LSU turned up the defense a notch, holding State scoreless over the last five minutes to escape the carnage only down by 12.


The Bulldogs seemed to pick up where they had left off in last week's one-point home loss to Kentucky, a game the Bulldogs had in the bag until a last second bucket gave the Wildcats the victory.


"With us coming off that disappointing setback we had Tuesday night, that just made it extra tough to come down here and play this game," said Bulldog head coach Rick Stansbury. "I thought we had great preparation and I thought our kids came into this game somehow and someway with another sense of purpose."


The Tigers picked up the pace in the initial minutes of the second half, cutting the lead to seven points at the 17:02 mark. LSU took advantage of points in transition and fed off a pair of clutch three-pointers, in an eight-point outburst by Xavier Whipple. The Tigers had closed to within four points, trailing 33-29 by the first official timeout of the second half with 15:23 remaining in regulation.


"I feel like the offensive board and us getting defensive rebounds and not turning the ball over as much," Hudson said about the second half.


Mitchell made it a two-point, 33-31 game on a layup 14:00 left. Hudson drained back-to-back jumpers and Lloreda banged home a pair of layups shaving the State lead to one point, 40-39. Lloreda led the Tigers in scoring putting up 13, followed by Hudson with 11 and Mitchell scoring 10.

Speaking of Mitchell, always one to drill the big shot, the 5-9 sophomore buried a trey in transition, giving LSU's it first lead of the game, 42-40 at the 8:40 mark.


"We mad some adjustments at halftime and did a nice job and took the lead," Brady said. "But we've got to credit Mississippi State for making the plays down the stretch to win the game."


It was LSU's only lead of the game, and it lasted a mere 40 seconds until Lawrence Roberts tied the game with a pair of free throws with 8:23 left in the game.


"We were not able to make enough critical stops on defense to build our lead," Brady said. "I don't know if we came down the floor with the ball and the lead."


Following LSU's brief moment on top ended with a 9-3 by the Bulldogs, capped by a three-pointer by Gary Ervin. Ervin enjoyed a career-high leading the Bulldogs in scoring with 13 points.


"Gary was really big for us tonight," said State guard Timmy Bowers. "He stepped it up in the last game versus Kentucky and he told me from now on that it was going to be like that so we are just going to expect that out of him."


After falling behind by six points after Ervin's trey, LSU got it back to a two-point deficit twice, the second coming on a layup by Hudson. However, the Bulldogs mounted a 6-0 run and took an almost insurmountable 57-49 lead when Brandon Vincent knocked home a jumper with 2:05 remaining.


"I do not know if I have been around a group of guys who have the mental toughness and the mental ability to go out and never give up," Stansbury said. "We knew this was going to be a very difficult game just because LSU is very good."


For Brady and the Tigers, it is small consolation that they were able to rally from so far down only to fall just a bit short.


"If we can mirror what we did for about 15 minutes in the second half, if I can get our team to do that, we will be pretty good," Brady said. "But where we are, is where we are."

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