When the final buzzer sounded, Auburn had used a 12-4 run over the final three minutes to steal the 84-80 road win.
In the postgame press conference, a visibly shaken Tasmin Mitchell – fresh off a 38-point, 10-rebound night – managed few words when asked how the game slipped away from LSU.
Before Friday’s practice, the senior forward – who has turned into Mr. Everything for the Tigers this season – said that he had turned the heartache into an understanding of the direction that the team is headed.
“I really take losing to heart, but I think we are right there for a victory,” Mitchell said. “We are chipping away.”
In the games leading up to Auburn, the story had been the Tigers’ inability to carry momentum from one half to the next.
With a strong second half against Auburn erased by the defensive meltdown across the final minutes, the next chapter in the story becomes the inability to get the plays in the end.
“We have to close out games,” Mitchell said. “If it is a step-by-step deal, then the next step is defending the last five minutes of the game.”
At 6-foot-7, Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway is the Rebels’ tallest presence among the starting five – which means the Tigers will see a heavy dose of guard play.
“What they do philosophy-wise is what we have seen, but Ole Miss is very skilled,” said LSU head coach Trent Johnson. “[Eniel] Polynice and [Chris] Warren are two guys that we didn’t see last year, and I am a big, big Terrico White fan. I think he is one of the best in the country.
“Auburn’s three perimeter guys were quick and fast, while White is 6-foot-5, 220 and strong,” he added. “From that standpoint, Ole Miss poses the biggest challenge that we will see this year.”
If there wasn’t already enough bad news around the LSU camp, the Tigers, a team short on guard play, will likely be without freshman Aaron Dotson. The Seattle-native suffered a sprained ankle in the second half of Wednesday’s loss.
With Dotson now on the injury list alongside senior Alex Farrer, LSU’s choices at guard have been whittled down to a pair of names.
“It will be Bo [Spencer] or Chris [Bass],” said Johnson when asked who would be forced with the task of guarding White, who averages 15.9 points per game. “I have no choice; it is what it is.”
Bass, who averages less than three points a game, is LSU’s lone true point guard – meaning that the workload on the perimeter would be done by Spencer.
Slowing the Rebel attack down and forcing the game into the half-court will be priority number one.
“Their game is running and gunning, and we have to bring them to our pace,” Spencer said. “I played against Warren a good bit in high school, and he is back playing well after being injured. With Warren, White and the other guys, we know we have to play tough defense.”
Johnson, whose team has dropped seven of their last eight contests, stressed much of the same.
“It’s our ability to contain defensively,” he said. “Ole Miss is a much more explosive team than Auburn, and we didn’t do a very good job of defending Auburn.”
The Tigers, who took Thursday off, were back at practice on Friday afternoon for an hour-and-a-half workout followed by a film session.
Saturday’s game against the Rebels is set to tip at 12:30 p.m. at the PMAC.