Mitchell's trey propels LSU past Hogs 78-77

LSU developed the reputation for giving up large second-half leads earlier this season after leading both Ohio State and Connecticut by double digits before losing.

But, it seemed as if those ways were ways of the past as a more mature Tiger team took a 15-6 overall record and a two-game lead in the Southeastern Conference Western Division into Wednesday's game with Arkansas in Baton Rouge.


That's why 9820 LSU biased-fans stood stunned with 11 seconds remaining in the game after the Tigers surrendered a 14-point second-half lead after not scoring for the last 4:24 of the last 4:35 of the contest while Arkansas turned that deficit into a 77-75 advantage. And, also why that same crowd erupted when Tiger senior guard Darrel Mitchell broke the scoreless streak with a long three-point basket over the outstretched arms of two Razorbacks at the top of the key to give LSU a 78-77 win at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.


The win let LSU keep pace with Tennessee for the overall lead in the SEC with matching 8-1 conference, with the Tigers holding the head-to-head advantage after beating the Volunteers earlier this season. It also improved LSU's overall record to 16-6 and allowed the Tigers to keep that two-game lead in the conference western division. Arkansas fell to 15-7 and 4-5 in the conference.


Mitchell's buried three was countered on the Razorback end of the floor by Ronnie Brewer, who had been the catalysts in the 14-0 run that erased LSU's lead. Brewer took the ball at the top of the key with the clock ticking toward zero, dribbled inside the three-point arch, committed a double dribble that wasn't called and heaved a 15-foot prayer toward the goal between two Tiger defenders. The ball bounced off the left side of the rim and the Tigers stood victorious.


"I don't think we played real smart down the stretch," Tiger Coach John Brady said. "We had some really careless turnovers. The main thing is LSU won the game. That's the bottom line."


The bottom line for the Razorbacks is that they had a chance to put the game away at the free throw line and failed. Arkansas held a two-point lead on LSU's second-to-last trip down the floor when Garrett Temple missed a three-point try with 34 seconds remaining and Glen Davis carried the rebound to the floor with him out of bounds.


Brady said his team set up a full court press and tried to trap at least twice, but Arkansas broke the press when freshman guard Sean McCurdy dribbled the ball past half court. Davis fouled McCurdy and sent him to the free throw line to shoot two shots. But, McCurdy missed both chances and LSU grabbed the rebound of the second shot after it bounced on the floor a few times and was fought for by several players.


"I could lie and say we wanted to foul McCurdy because he was a freshman and he had just checked in the game," Brady said. "But that's not the way we set it up."


But, Brady said the shot made by Mitchell was set up and run to perfection.


"We brought the ball down the court and put Mitchell in the corner," Brady said. "The two post men set up screens at the top of the key and even Tasmin Mitchell got involved. Darrel made his way past them and made the shot."


Mitchell's 27 total points and his 5-of-7 shooting from three point range prompted Brady to say he's never coached a player more capable in the clutch than Mitchell. Mitchell absorbed the praise and commended his teammates, but still lamented over a missed opportunity to make a similar basket in a similar situation in a one-point loss at now No.1-ranked Connecticut.


"This is not really redemption because it's not UConn," Mitchell said. "But it was a really big shot and a really big win. They made a really good run on us and we were able to come back."


According to Brady, that Arkansas run came immediately after the Tigers delivered, what the perceived was the last big blow of the game to the limping Razorbacks. LSU freshman forward Tyrus Thomas finished a fast-break alley-oop with a thunderous slam dunk in which he seemed to grab the errant pass from Temple off the top of the backboard to give LSU a 75-63 lead with 4:35 to play. The crowd erupted and the Tigers celebrated while Brewer, the SEC's leading scorer entering Wednesday's game, streaked to the other end of the floor and sank a long three pointer. Brewer then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and laid it in while drawing a foul. His six points in 20 seconds made up one fourth of his final tally of 24 and cut the Tiger lead in half.


"For the most part for about a six-minute stretch we didn't make the proper decisions to close the game out and it almost cost us," Brady said. When it's all said and done, LSU's 8-1 in the league. Atop the SEC."   


Brady admitted his team played sloppy at times Wednesday, committing far too many turnovers with 21 and giving Arkansas too many chances by allowing the Razorbacks to grab 32 rebounds. And, he applauded Arkansas for playing hard and not giving up after LSU relaxed in the final 5:00 of the game.


He said all of the mistakes his team made are correctable, and will be before the Tigers travel to Florida to take on the seventh-ranked Gators Saturday in arguably the toughest game of the conference season thus far for LSU, especially considering the Gators may still be smarting after an upset loss to South Carolina Wednesday.


"This one wasn't by the books," he said. "Still, we don't apologize and we're looking forward to going to Gainesville. I don't know if it's better to play at team that's high off a win or still down from a loss. Our guys just want to get better. After the game, they were all saying ‘let's learn, let's watch the tape and let's get better."

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