The Bulldogs had everything in their favor from avenging the worst loss they suffered on the year in an 81-57 loss to LSU earlier this month to a hostile home court advantage. Add in that LSU had only six players available for the final 1:13 in the second overtime due to four fouling out and Bo Spencer’s ankle injury and the odds seemed insurmountable.
However, Johnson’s squad rose to the occasion behind the terrific effort from Tasmin Mitchell, who finished with a career-high 41 points, including the game-winning basket with 38 seconds remaining.
Mitchell got some help as Marcus Thornton scored 19 and Spencer chipped in 15 points. Terry Martin gave the Tigers a big boost off the bench with some valuable minutes when Spencer went down and scored 11 points.
“Tasmin was good, he was good,” Johnson said. “To get 41 points and a shooting percentage is one thing, but five assists and no turnovers as much as we got the ball to him and as many double teams as he saw. I thought Terry Martin was really good. Defensively, he was really good and made baskets.”
LSU (20-4, 8-1 SEC) now holds a two game lead in the SEC Western Division and the overall conference race with five teams tied for second with a 6-3 league mark in Mississippi State, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The Tigers have seven SEC games remaining with Ole Miss next on the schedule for Saturday.
LSU defeated Ole Miss on January 17 in Oxford, 83-51, but the Rebels have been playing better of late, winning three of their last four. With big wins at home over Kentucky (85-80) and Auburn (78-59), and a victory at Mississippi State (67-63) sandwiched in between, Andy Kennedy’s club may be catching the Tigers at the right time.
A physically and emotionally draining win by the Tigers, combined with an Ole Miss team looking to prove that they are much better than the one that lost by 32 points at home to LSU, is a recipe for an upset.
“Right now, I know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot no matter who it is and especially Ole Miss with the way we went to their home and beat them pretty bad,” said Martin. “I know they want to come and get revenge so them and including everybody in the SEC, we’re going to get their best shot.”
Ole Miss features the fourth leading scorer and second most efficient three-point shooter in the SEC in David Huertas, who averages 19.3 points a game and hits 37.4 percent from behind the arc (65-174).
Huertas and the Rebels have gotten a boost from Terico White over the last eight games. In the first 15 games, the true freshman guard reached double figures in scoring only three times. Over the last eight contests, however, he’s scored in double figures seven times and went for 18 or more on six occasions.
When LSU and Ole Miss squared off in Oxford, LSU held Huertas to only four points, but White went for 22, which was his career-high up to that point.
Johnson said that he has seen an Ole Miss squad, that is still without three starters that were lost for the year due to injuries, evolve from the last time the two teams met and it’s something that concerns him.
“I would say that and it worries me from a standpoint because the three guys that they have hurt and when we went and played them the first time I watched them warm up and I thought, my goodness, physically they are strong,” Johnson said. “Now you see Huertas and you see White…You just see them continuing to get better. They lost a couple but they beat some people in some hostile environments.”
LSU sophomore point guard Bo Spencer, who suffered an ankle injury against Mississippi State, will not play Saturday. In his absence, Johnson will move senior guard Garrett Temple back to his old position.
“We’re going to play Garrett out front with Terry (Martin), Marcus (Thornton), Tas (Tasmin Mitchell) and CJ (Chris Johnson),” said the headman. “We’ll keep Chris (Bass) in a situation because one thing about Ole Miss, their freshman White, he is good. Their perimeters are big, 6-5, 6-6, so the matchup naturally is good for us in that regard.”
Johnson said that Spencer was listed day-to-day and he was on crutches on Thursday as a precaution.
Aaron Dotson’s heading to Baton Rouge
Scout.com four-star shooting guard Aaron Dotson’s senior season on the hardwood has come to an end and is on his way to Baton Rouge to have surgery on his knee on Monday according to Trent Johnson.
“He wants to shut down his high school career,” said Johnson. “It’s not bad surgery but it’s something he wants to get cleaned up. Instead of trying to play on a leg and a half, he wants to get it cleaned up and get himself ready to play collegiate basketball.”