With Johnson’s ability to turn the page so quickly it should come as no surprise that the Bulldogs were the only topic when the headman met with the media after practice on Monday.
All five of Mississippi State’s starters are averaging double figures in scoring in the eight league games, and the Bulldogs lead the league with 190 three-point baskets in 23 total games played. Those numbers alone are enough for Johnson to worry about when it comes to defending what has become one of the top programs in the SEC West.
“We better guard them getting off the bus,” Johnson said. “Here’s the interesting thing. They got five guys averaging double figures, 12.4, 12.6, 12.1, 11.6, 11.4. The one statistic that I haven’t been able to chart and I’ve been watching as much film as possible is how many guys have shot three’s that are an NBA three (pointer).”
LSU (19-4) enters Wednesday’s clash on a seven game win streak and sits atop the SEC overall standings at 7-1. Mississippi State is only a game behind the Tigers and is tied with Florida with a 6-2 conference mark.
The Tigers have been on a roll since falling to Alabama on January 11 and have defeated their seven opponents by an average of 15.3 points a game. The Crimson Tide was the latest victim on Sunday as the Tigers extracted a little revenge for the 65-59 setback in Tuscaloosa.
Mississippi State has won eight of its last ten games with one of the losses at the hands of LSU, 81-57, 19 days ago. That defeat is by far the worst of the season for a Bulldog squad that is 16-7 overall, but this time around Rick Stansbury’s club will have the home court advantage.
“There’s not much you can take from our game here other than the fact that I thought we really got out and got after them,” said Johnson. “But that game was in the balance a little bit and then Marcus (Thornton) went off on one of his shooting spurts and then we got a little separation. They’re playing a lot better, and I think we’re better, but they’re playing a lot better right now and they’re really confident from shooting it deep.”
One of the tall tasks facing LSU will be defending the nation’s leading shot blocker and the conference’s second leading rebounder in Jarvis Varnado at 4.9 and 9.6 a game, respectively.
Varnado went for 18 points in the first meeting, but grabbed only four rebounds and did not register a blocked shot, which was the only time this season he had failed to do so.
“I watched some film today and I was looking to see how he got position on me and I made it too easy for him at times,” said LSU center Chris Johnson, who will defend Varnado when the Tigers play man defense. “I’m just going to push him off the lane a little bit and make things difficult for him. He’s very athletic so you’re not going to just be able to completely shut him down.”
Varnado will give LSU problems, but the outside shooting is what has Trent Johnson the most concerned. The Bulldogs knocked down 16 treys and overcame a 15 point halftime deficit last Saturday to roll over Arkansas for an 86-77 victory.
“That was our biggest emphasis the first time we played them to take away the three-pointers,” said LSU forward Tasmin Mitchell. “They live and die by the three-pointer so that’s our main goal. If they want to drive then we’ll collapse and help if we have to, but we have to take away the three (pointer).”
LSU has its own inside-outside tandem of Marcus Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell for Mississippi State to worry about.
Thornton is second in the SEC in scoring at a clip of 20.0 points a game, and Mitchell, who was voted SEC Player of the Week on Monday, has six double-doubles on the year after logging 16 points and 11 rebounds against the Crimson Tide.
Thornton scored 31 against the Bulldogs earlier in the year and Mitchell went for 24 as the two combined for 55 of the team’s 81 points.
It may be a little more difficult this time around for Mitchell, who had success inside against Varnado, but on Sunday he showed that he can step outside and knock down the three-pointer.
“He’s (Mitchell) been very versatile in his ability to defend and, offensively, to play other spots,” Trent Johnson said.
“He’s shooting the ball well from the perimeter and he reads double teams well,” added Johnson.
Someone who isn’t shooting as well right now for the Tigers is Bo Spencer. The sophomore point guard went scoreless against Georgia last Wednesday and he knocked down only 1 of 6 shots against Alabama to finish with two points over the last two games.
“I have to believe its fatigue, but I have to believe its some confidence too,” Trent Johnson said. “He played well for a long period of time and obviously he has to get his rest. As much as I or anyone else talks to him about getting off his feet and certain things, he looked like was very, very sluggish the other day…He’s just got to bounce back and it happens.”
Bouncing back will be a little tougher with the Tigers being on the road, and Mitchell knows a well as anyone that going to “The Hump” and leaving with a victory is easier said than done.
“Going to the Hump is very difficult to play,” Mitchell said. “It’s very difficult to play in that environment but it’s like everywhere in the SEC. We beat them the first time and I know they’re going to want revenge and they’re going to have their fans out there.”