Tigers run out of gas - State dumps LSU 76-61

NEW ORLEANS – If you ask LSU head coach John Brady what was his team's best game this season, the sixth-year coach will not hesitate in saying it was the Tigers 85-72 win over Mississippi State on January 11. <br><br> Brady said his team played a near-perfect game in downing the Bulldogs that day. Mississippi State, though, returned that favor Saturday with an almost flawless performance in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament at the Louisiana Superdome defeating LSU 76-61.

LSU (21-10) showed signs of a battle weary ball club playing their third game in three days. However, Brady did not reflect the demeanor of a coach upset with his team in the wake of a 15-point loss.


"When we beat Mississippi State at home, we almost played a perfect game," Brady began. "Today it wasn't about what we didn't do as much as how well Mississippi State played."


The Bulldogs (21-8) had an answer for everything LSU could throw their way. Coach Rick Stansbury's club, which prides itself with a suffocating defense, frustrated the Tigers on the defensive end then used a balanced

scoring attack to pull away down the stretch.


"I hear a lot of coaches after getting beat talk about how poorly they played and how badly they shot," Brady said. "I just think Mississippi State has extremely talented athletes and the size to do the right things."


The right thing on Saturday had to do with the Bulldogs' size. MSU's Mario Austin was a force in the paint on the defensive end, but his presence on offense drew the attention of LSU defenders leaving junior Timmy Bowers to provide the most lethal blows to the Tigers.


Bowers scored a game-high 26 points drilling 6-of-9 three pointers.


"I saw him (Bowers) earlier and I asked him why did he that to me today," Brady said. "We probably should have went to a box and one on him. He won the game for them."


Bowers maintained a steady stroke throughout the duration of the game, including a clutch trey with 5:18 remaining in the contest. LSU was trying to narrow a nine-point Mississippi State lead trailing 63-54 when Bowers ripped off a three-point bomb raising the lead to 12 points.


"Today, I wanted to be more aggressive and I made some shots," Bowers said. "I felt good about myself and that helped me out."


LSU's Ronald Dupree, who lit up Florida for 24 points on Friday, felt the brunt of the Bulldog's defensive strategy. The Biloxi, Miss. native scored only nine points on 4-of-12 shooting.


"We knew we had to focus on (Ronald) Dupree and Jaime Lloreda," Austin said.


It was evident Dupree was off the mark early and he struggled to find his shot as the Bulldogs' poured it on defensively.


"They (Mississippi State) defended him good," Brady said. "They frustrated him and forced him to do too much too quick. He didn't let the game come to him today like he did yesterday against Florida."


Xavier Whipple scored the first points of the game giving LSU its only lead of the game. Mississippi State quickly responded building a 17-9 lead after Derek Zimmerman drained a three-pointer. Four of MSU's first six shots came from beyond the arc as the Bulldogs were 10-of-19 shooting threes on Saturday.


"When they make their perimeter shots, they are hard to beat," Brady said. "Plus they are a good defensive and rebounding team. When they have it all going, they are really nice squad."


Trailing by the widest margin, a 26-12 deficit, the Tigers mounted a comeback beginning with a Dupree jumper at the 8:34 mark. Zimmerman gave the Bulldogs a 10-point, 34-24 lead on a layup with 4:29 left in the first half.


It would be MSU's last points of the first half.


The Tigers scored eight unanswered points closing out the first half. At the break, LSU trailed by just two points, a 34-32 deficit.


"At halftime, there was nothing that could be said to make a difference in the game," Stansbury said. "The only thing that was going to effect the final 20 minutes was which team would be able to find the most toughness to defend and rebound."


Making a long story short, the Bulldogs won that battle.


Mississippi State out hustled and out manned LSU in the second half as a visibly exhausted Tiger squad could only stand by and watch the outcome.


"Today they were a half step ahead and more physical," Brady said. "If we were at our best, though, who knows what could have happened."


Stansbury credited his team with playing the more dominant game,

especially in the second half.


"There is no question that we came out and set the tone defensively," Stansbury said. "In the end, that will set the offense. I just think, as the game went on, we got stronger."


Mississippi State turned a 2-point game at the half into a nine-point, 43-34 lead by the 17:28 mark. LSU countered the Bulldogs effort with an 8-2 run closing the gap to three points, behind 45-42.


MSU put together another run, a 10-0 bolt in which Austin score four points and Bowers drained another three-pointer.


The Tigers had one more surge left outscoring State 11-5 between the 11:38 point and 7:39 left in regulation. Coming out of the third official timeout of the second half, the Bulldogs were clinging to a six-point, 60-54 lead.


In three quick possessions, though, Mississippi State pushed the lead to 12 on a bucket and free throw by Ontario Harper and another Bowers trey.


"You have to give credit to Mississippi State," Collis Temple III said. "They had intensity from the start, similar to Florida yesterday. This time we weren't able to counter because Mississippi State was more physical throughout the game."


Aside form Bowers' 26 points, two other Bulldogs finished in double figures. Michal Ignerski scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting while Austin had 14.


Lloreda (11 rebounds), Temple and Antonio Hudson all had 11 points leading LSU. Torris Bright added 10 points in the losing effort.


The loss ended a seven-game winning streak by the Tigers. It was the first loss since LSU dropped a 68-57 decision at Kentucky on Feb. 15.


"I have to commend LSU because they had a great season and have played as well if not better than most of the teams in the league or nation," Stansbury said.


In the end, Brady complimented his team and what lies ahead for the Tigers in the future.

"I am extremely proud of this basketball team and what they have accomplished this year," Brady said. "I know we will be playing, Thursday, Friday or Saturday of this week (in the NCAAs)."

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