The Tigers won their third consecutive conference game and did so in convincing fashion. They saved their best basketball of the season for a paid crowd of 11,709 and are now in first place in the SEC Western Division a quarter of the way through the conference schedule.
“The fan base is the biggest part of the team’s success,” Tasmin Mitchell said. “Even though we play the game to know they support us is just terrific. I’m going back to the Final Four year but that’s how the stands were in that Final Four year.”
The Bulldogs (13-6, 3-1) came out of the locker room and cut it to 38-35 only 1 minute and 18 seconds into the second half, but from that point on it was all LSU.
The Tigers went on an 11-0 run to push it to a 49-35 margin then Marcus Thornton scored the team’s next 11 points. In less than four minutes of play, the senior guard pumped in 17 points and knocked down four three pointers. Before Mississippi State could turn things around LSU had built an 18 point lead and never looked back.
“I credit these guys because without them I wouldn’t have the ball in my hands,” said Thornton, who had a game-high 31 points. “As a player…you hit one or two and you get in a groove. Shots started falling and they kept feeding me, so I kept shooting.”
The first half was the Thornton and Mitchell show as the two combined for 27 of the team’s 36 points. Mitchell scored 16 and hit 6 of 8 from the field, while Thornton chipped in 11 points on 5 of 11 shooting.
While Thornton knocked down 10 of 18 shots on the night, including 5 of 8 from behind the arc, Mitchell put 24 points on the board.
Mitchell, a 6-7, 235-pound junior from Denham Springs, combined with Thornton for 55 of the team’s 81 points on the evening.
“Tonight, LSU was the best team and pressed their will on us tonight,” said Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury. “All you can do is take tonight for tonight. They only count as one win and one loss.”
The Tigers hit 45.2 percent of their shots from the field in the first 20 minutes of action and dominated the boards by outrebounding the Bulldogs 22-11. The second half was much the same except the Tigers knocked down 6 of 12 three pointers to finish 8 of 18 on the night, and were good on 51.7 percent of their shots from the floor.
LSU was just as dominant on the glass as the Tigers won the battle on the boards 22-13 in the second half to finish with a 44-24 advantage for the game. LSU was very effective at keeping Mississippi State off the offensive boards and the Bulldogs finished with a measly four offensive rebounds.
“We got killed in the backboards,” Stansbury said. “It was just how good they’re playing and they’re big and athletic at every position on the court.”
LSU was clicking on both ends of the floor and much of that success was due to the second half explosion. The Tigers struggled in the second half against South Carolina after leading by 18 points at the break, and were not as sharp against Ole Miss after building a 23 point halftime lead.
Johnson urged his players to come out with a sense of urgency in the second half after he saw the Bulldogs whittle an 11 point lead down to six in the final two and a half minutes of the first half.
“I was upset at how we played the last five minutes of the first half,” Temple said. “The last three games we had been playing well in the first half and not playing as well as wanted to in the second half. Coach came in at halftime and told us to switch that around this game because they’re going to come back; we’re playing for first place. So, we came out in the second half and put the hammer down, and we’re real happy about that.”
Mississippi State was led by its leading scorer Jarvis Varnado, who scored 18 points, but was held to a season low four rebounds. Ravern Johnson was the only other Bulldog to reach double figures in scoring with 10 points.
Varnado entered the contest as the nation’s leading shot blocker at 5.2 a game. He matched up against Mitchell for much of the game and Mitchell took it right at him early by scoring 12 of LSU's first 16 points.
“We’re good at what we do when we’re executing,” Johnson said. “The name of the game is being aggressive so regardless of who we post we’re going to try to run our stuff, and if they take it away we’re going to do something else.”
Mississippi State’s lineup worried Johnson because the Bulldogs surround Varnado with four guards and their perimeter play had given opponents problems on the year.
However, LSU's defense was stellar and held the Bulldogs to 36.5 percent shooting from the floor. The league’s No. 2 ranked team at shooting three pointers struggled from there as well and hit only 5 of 20.
“Obviously we played well,” Johnson said. “Mississippi State really concerned me and really worried me coming in because they stretch you on the perimeter so well and they got some kids that are capable of shooting a deep three off the dribble, going right or left, but I thought we defended really well.”
Next up for LSU is a matchup with No. 15 ranked Xavier.
The Tigers, who won for the 17th straight time at home, are playing well, but Johnson is quick to point out that there is a lot of basketball left to be played and no one should be looking too far down the schedule.
“I’m just worried about winning the next possession,” Johnson said. “It’s that simple for me. It’s the next possession offensively. It’s the next possession defensively. We just can’t get caught up in ‘Oh we just won by 20. We’ve arrived. We haven’t arrived at anything. The last time I checked we have a few games to play still so we have to continue to get better.”
On the Blocks
LSU center Chris Johnson had struggled some this season on the defensive end, but he blocked two shots and pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds.
Bo Spencer hit only three shots on the evening, but all three were from downtown as the sophomore point guard was 3 for 4 from behind the arc and finished with nine points.