LSU loses spark against Mississippi State

The offensive spark that propelled LSU in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals petered out Saturday against Mississippi State. After hitting seven of their first nine shots to start the game, the Tigers missed three chances to break a late tie and watched as the Bulldogs won the game at the free throw line, 57-51.

Mario Austin, who led MSU with 17 points, went 9-of-10 at the line including a pair of foul shots with 58.6 seconds remaining in the game that gave the Bulldogs a 53-51 lead. LSU turned the ball over on its next in-bounds pass, eliminating its chance to tie or take the lead. Marckell Patterson put the game away for MSU with a shot in the lane with 25.5 seconds to play and free throws accounted for the remainder of the scoring. 


Mississippi State (25-7) advances to the championship game of the SEC Tournament with its seven win in a row, while LSU (18-14), who had its winning streak end at four games, awaits an expected bid into the National Invitational Tournament. Pairings and host sites will be announced Sunday evening.


"I think it speaks well for our players, how hard they play and the belief system they play within," said Brady. "I complement these guys… There's not a basketball program in the country that's taken the hits that these guys have taken.


"That's no excuse. I don't apologize for how my team plays. It's facts. And I don't think they get enough credit for what they've been through."


After shooting 55 percent from the field in the first half (11-20), LSU cooled considerably in the second and finished the game 18 of 46 (39 percent) for the game. Mississippi State was less accurate, making 18 of 51 attempts (35 percent), but hit 16 of 24 chances at the free throw line.


"Sometimes you've got to find a way to win when you don't play your best," said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. "Today was a good example of that.


"Give LSU a lot of credit. They tried to make it an ugly game and zoned us a lot, keeping the ball from the inside and hope we don't shoot it very well (from the outside)."


The Tigers wanted to keep the ball away from Austin on the inside, where he was held to 4-of-15 shooting on the day as a result of double-team defense. The Bulldogs had to settle for a lot of rushed shots behind the arc, where they made 5 of 21 tries.



Mississippi State's Michal Ignerski blocks the shot of Louisiana State's Jason Wilson during the second half of Mississippi State's 57-51 win in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament (AP Photo/Dave Martin).


LSU was 3 for 12 on three-pointers, its worst showing of the SEC Tournament.


"The key to (beating) Mississippi State is not allowing them easy baskets," said LSU coach John Brady. "If we can make them run offense and execute in the half court, we thought we could beat them."


The game didn't unfold in the fashion Brady would have liked, as MSU scored 16 points off of 16 LSU turnovers. The Bulldogs committed 13 turnovers leading to 12 LSU points.


Antonio Hudson was the Tigers' top scorer for the Tigers in all three of their SEC Tournament games, totaling 16 against Mississippi State. He had a 23-point performance against Georgia and scored a career-high 24 against Vanderbilt.


It was Hudson who had the last chance to put LSU ahead in the game when the score was tied 51-51, but his one-handed leaner in the lane hit the left side of the backboard. Ronald Dupree had the first chance but missed an open field goal from the corner with 3:03 remaining.


Hudson's shot came after he rebounded a missed Torris Bright three-pointer, but Mississippi State came up with Hudson's miss and called a timeout with 1:51 left to play.


"We have three possessions and have two dead-eyes and don't make the basket," said Brady. "I don't fault our team. It just didn't go in when yesterday, that kind when in."


Bright and Ronald Dupree were each restricted to two points in the second half when LSU was 7 of 26 from the field. Bright finished the game with nine while Dupree totaled eight.


Dupree fouled out of the game with ten seconds to play, but his mostly costly foul came with 4:32 left in the game. The infraction occurred after Mississippi State guard Timmy Bowers picked Bright's pocket in the frontcourt and was headed for a breakaway layup when Dupree mugged him under the basket. Bowers was awarded two free throws, which tied the game at 48-48, and the Bulldogs retained possession on the intentional foul and went up two with shot from Patterson near the goal.


"(The referee) said I pushed him in the back," said Dupree. "I don't know if I did or not. I just wanted to foul him real hard to where he would have to earn it from the stripe with free throws, but the officials saw one way and made the call."


LSU held its last lead, 51-50, with 3:48 remaining after Hudson fed Jason Wilson for two-handed lay-in and drew a foul on the shot. Wilson sank the bonus free throw and finished the day with six points – all the scoring the Tigers' would get from their bench in the game.


It was Wilson who ended a dry spell for LSU at the start of the second half. His slam-dunk off a feed from Jermaine Williams at the 14:50 mark was the first field goal of the period for the Tigers. It made the score 36-31 in MSU's favor.


A three-pointer from Bowers with 10:44 remaining put the Bulldogs ahead by six, 44-38. But LSU was able to score ten unanswered points to take its first lead of the second half.


Wilson's free throw with 6:14 on the clock gave LSU a four-point lead, 48-44.


Derrick Zimmerman got MSU within a basket with a finger roll shot, and Dupree's intentional foul allowed Bowers to tie the game.


"The shots weren't falling for us in the second half," said Hudson, "but our defense was there. I guess they made the plays when it counted and they got the victory."


The Tigers' offensive tear at the beginning of the game allowed them to take a 16-11 lead at the 11:57 mark. But as quickly as they got hot, the Tigers went cold over the next five minutes and allowed Mississippi State to go on an 11-0 run.


Michal Ignerski got a second-chance basket with 7:10 to go before halftime to put the Bulldogs ahead 22-16. Williams finally stopped LSU's skid with two free throws with 6:50 remaining.


Mississippi State took its largest lead after Dupree fouled Derrick Zimmerman while he was taking a three-point shot and sent him to the line for three free throws. Zimmerman only made one of the foul shots to give the Bulldogs a 23-18 advantage.


LSU found its shooting range again and forced the third tie of the opening half, 26-26, at the 2:12 mark, when Bridgewater provided a slam-dunk off a transition pass from Bright. Hudson put LSU in front briefly with a 16-foot fall-away jumper, but Austin hit two free throws for the Bulldogs to even the score again with 58.8 on the clock.


Michael Harper put MSU ahead just before the half with a layup off of a steal near midcourt. He was fouled in the process and made the bonus free throw to give the Bulldogs a 31-28 lead.


While Austin was the only Mississippi State player with a double-figure point total, other Bulldogs made equally significant contributions. Michael Gholar led MSU with nine rebounds and was mainly responsible for containing Dupree on defense.


Zimmerman had a four-of-a-kind outing with five points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals.


Bowers sank a free throw with 18.3 seconds remaining to make the score 56-51 and finished with eight points, as did Patterson. The final point came from Gholar at the line with 10.3 to play.


"We didn't play that well on offense, but we found a way on defense to get it done," said Bowers.

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