LSU (19-4, 7-1) handed Mississippi State (16-7, 6-2) its worst loss on the year, 81-57, when the two teams met at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The 24-point margin is the most lopsided loss of the year and two Tigers in particular had their way with Rick Stansbury’s club.
Marcus Thornton scored 31 points with 17 coming in a span of 3:40 that helped LSU build a 25-point lead and run away with the victory.
Thornton, who is second in the SEC in scoring at 20 points a game, hit 10 of 18 from the floor and knocked down 5 of 8 from three-point range. The senior from Baton Rouge has been on a tear the last six games where he’s scored 30 or more three times and is averaging 26 points over that span.
Thornton did it from the outside and Mitchell did it inside with several clutch jump hooks and some big baskets. The Denham Springs-native scored 24 points on 9 of 13 shooting from the floor, and although he was held to a season-low two rebounds he did a good job in containing Mississippi State’s big man Jarvis Varnado.
This time around, LSU head coach Trent Johnson expects some different looks from Stansbury’s club to neutralize Thornton and Mitchell on both ends of the court.
“I think the way Tasmin and Marcus are playing on the offensive end will lead people to try to do some things differently,” Johnson said. “Yes, there are some things that we’ve tried to work on to be proactive and be prepared going into a game, but for us defensively, our principles and the way we play are always going to be the same.”
The Bulldogs present some matchup problems for the Tigers with their four-guard offense and Jarvis Varnado in the paint.
Mississippi State enters the contest with the SEC’s second leading three-point shooting team at 38.7 percent and has knocked down the most three-pointers of anyone in the conference with 190.
The Bulldogs have set records for threes in a game the last two times out as they banged home a school record 14 in a 66-57 win at Kentucky, only to break that record the next time out with 16 in a 86-77 come from behind win over Arkansas.
In the first meeting, LSU held Mississippi State to 5 of 20 shooting from behind the arc and that has been the story of the Bulldogs this season.
In their seven losses, the Bulldogs are shooting only 26.4 percent from three-point range and have hit only 39 of 148 of their shots. Conversely, they’ve connected on 151 of 343 treys in the 16 victories for 44 percent.
When the Bulldogs are hitting from the outside it makes it that much tougher to stop Varnado in the middle.
“It makes it very hard to cover down on the post on Jarvis who is probably one of, if not the, best post player in our league,” said Johnson. “So it makes it really tough.”
In the earlier meeting only Johnson and Varnado reached double digits with 10 and 18 points, respectively.
Johnson knows that defeating a team twice in one season is tough because coaches and players have a more in-depth scouting report to go off of. However, while there will be some adjustments made by both teams it comes down to doing what they do best.
“For me, it’s always been the same. You have to do something really well, and the only way to do that is to have a solid system and a commitment to do that every night out,” Johnson said. “I see no reason to change our approach and what we’re doing, either offensively or defensively, but we are prepared for certain adjustments.”
With Thornton and Mitchell likely to draw more attention this time around someone will need to be ready to step up and shoulder some of the scoring.
LSU point guard Bo Spencer is the team’s third leading scorer at 11.5 points a game, but he’s only managed to score two points in his last two outings.
If Spencer can’t get going then Chris Johnson may be the answer. The senior center has taken his game farther away from the basket in SEC play and that has allowed him to take advantage of his outside shot.
“The most important thing is being able to do what I can within the team concept,” said Johnson, who averages 8.4 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. “I’ve been working the last couple of games to catch it in the post and face up because that’s what I do best more than having my back to the basket.
“Most of last year I was just taking good percentage shots and just taking open shots because guys would back off of me,” he added. “I got a jumper so whatever they give me I’m going to take it.”
If Stansbury goes with the same approach then Johnson will be guarded by Varnado, who leads the nation with 4.9 blocks a game and is second in the SEC with 9.6 rebounds an outing. Ironically, the only game that Varnado has not blocked a shot was in the first meeting between the two teams.
On the other end of the floor, Mitchell may find himself again matched up on Varnado and he did a good job the last time out by holding him to 18 points and only four boards.
The storylines are there for what should be an outstanding matchup between the top two teams in the Western Division.
LSU leads the overall league standings heading into Wednesday’s battle. but the Tigers’ headman knows that to be the best in the West he has to beat the team that has been at the top the last two years.
“They are the two-time defending SEC Western Division champs, and nobody talks about that,” Johnson said. “Nobody talks about the job coach Stansbury has done over the years. I do believe his tenure in this league is second only to Billy Donovan’s.
“Knowing him and competing against his teams in the past when they were big and strong and physical, to change the way they play and play at this level that they are playing at in terms of going to a four-guard lineup during the course of the year has been impressive.”
LSU (19-4, 7-1) at Mississippi State (16-7, 6-2)
Feb. 11, 2009 at 7 p.m. CT
Humphrey Coliseum – Starkville, Miss.
LSU Probable Starters
G – Marcus Thornton (6-4, 205, Sr.) 20.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg
G – Garrett Temple (6-6, 190, Sr.) 6.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.0 apg
G – Bo Spencer (6-1, 185, So.) 11.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.6 apg
F – Tasmin Mitchell (6-7, 235, Jr.) 15.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg
C – Chris Johnson (6-11, 210, Sr.) 8.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.5 bpg
G – Terry Martin (6-6, 210, Sr.) 4.0 ppg, 2.3 apg
F – Quintin Thornton (6-9, 225, Sr.) 3.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg
F – Storm Warren (6-7, 220, Fr.) 1.9 ppg, 1.3 rpg
Mississippi State Probable Starters
G – Ravern Johnson (6-7, 175, So.) 12.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G – Dee Bost (6-2, 170, Fr.) 10.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.5 apg
G – Barry Stewart (6-3, 170, Jr.) 11.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg
G – Phil Turner (6-3, 170, So.) 8.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg
C – Jarvis Varnado (6-9, 210, Jr.) 12.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.9 bpg
F – Elgin Bailey (6-85, 265, So.) 4.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg
F – Romero Osby (6-8, 230, Fr.) 5.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg
G – Riley Benock (6-4, 180, So.) 2.8 ppg, 1.1 rpg