As anticipated, LSU's inside tandem of center Glen Davis and forward Tyrus Thomas put on a show of muscle and moves to combine for 31 points and 16 rebounds. The Bulldogs could live with that, but not with the unanticipated contributions of the LSU backcourt. A group that had combined for just one three-point goal in the first couple of SEC contests, in a dozen attempts, hit for six this night and provided the margin of visitor-victory.
"They had some guys make shots tonight who hadn't made them," said Stansbury. He was speaking of Darrell Mitchell (three treys), Garrett Temple (two), and Tasmin Mitchell (one). The trio was 6-of-15 at the arc, belying the team's SEC-worst 29.7% outside accuracy and baffling Bulldog defenders.
"We weren't surprised about (Darrel) Mitchell, we knew he could shoot threes," Rhodes said. "We were surprised by Tasmin and Temple, they really knocked down some key threes." Darrel Mitchell finished with 15 points and was the only player to put in all 40 minutes of gametime, while Temple added 10 points and Tasmin Mitchell eight more.
State certainly wasn't surprised with the bigger Tigers. Davis pounded the paint for a team-best 17 points and six rebounds, playing only 29 minutes. Temple, already staking his claim as the best freshman in the SEC, was more spectacular. He got his 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, dunking four times, and cleared 10 impressive rebounds. "That's the best frontcourt in America," Stansbury said. "None better."
Looking at the Bengal balance, senior guard Jamall Edmondson was just as impressed with the whole lineup. "I believe they're the best team in the SEC right now."
Three Bulldogs got into double-digits with freshman guard Jamont Gordon, playing point for a third SEC game, totaling 17 though he had to shoot 16 times to get it. Despite his starting assignment the 6-4 Gordon also got a game-high 13 rebounds, but he also had eight turnovers.
Edmondson came off the bench for 15 points, while Rhodes battled the big cats inside to finish with 14 points and nine rebounds. The surprising stat of the night had State beating LSU, the nation's rebound-margin leader coming in, 40-33 on the backboards. "I heard they were number-one in the nation, so that's real good," said Rhodes. "That's just all about toughness."
It was also the only consolation State could take in defeat. The Dogs still turned just two rebounds into second-chance baskets, and did not do enough with their first shots to stay with LSU. While the Tigers had a positive assist/turnover ratio, State finished on the negative side of the equation for the 15th time this season. And it was by a whopping 18-to-5 margin this time.
"The difference was the offensive end," Stansbury said. "We shot 38% and had 18 turnovers. If we execute better we have a chance to win the game."
It was a good game for a while, though Davis dominated the early minutes by connecting on four of his first five shots. The 310-pound soph finished a three-point play that had LSU in front 12-8 at 15:26. "We wanted to get into them and double them on the low-post," Edmondson said. "But Big Baby is strong and he just went straight through the double-team." The Bulldogs countered by spreading the court, pulling Davis and Thomas outside, and opening up lanes to the rim. Rhodes was able to even the score 15-15 on a good move at 12:45.
But with Davis taking a break Darrel Mitchell took over, ramming home a couple of jumpers for five points. "We picked our poison early," Stansbury said. "We were in man, we went zone to change their rhythm. And Mitchell got hot." Thomas also got active. In under three minutes the 6-9 frosh dunked three times, once on a rebound and twice off a Tiger fastbreak. The third slam also brought a foul and three-point play at 7:36 as LSU suddenly led 28-17. Meanwhile State went from 11:46 to 7:08 without scoring, until Gordon free throws ended the drought.
That sparked a brief Bulldog surge that cut the deficit to 30-26 when Edmondson was left open out top for a trey. Darrel Mitchell responded at the other end and LSU raced out in front by as many as 13 points before a Rhodes dunk made the halftime score 41-30. Already three Tigers were in double-figures with all but seven of their team's total points.
LSU kept the margin around ten well into the next half, leading 52-39 at 13:44 before Edmondson stuck a three. The Bulldogs then took five more long shots in succession, making just one (by Gordon). The Tigers weren't scoring either but State wasted a lot of time and chances to make up much ground. So when Rhodes took, and made, something from closer range, it was still a 54-47 lead at 8:50 with LSU calling time.
"We didn't score there," Stansbury said. "We have to get a good shot there." Thomas certainly did, taking two long strides and stuffing in two Dogs' faces. A Slater turnover and foul led to Lazarre free throws and 11-point difference. State kept throwing up threes and Edmondson hit a pair, but they came around a couple of turnovers that prevented any real run at the Tigers. With the score 62-53 Tasmin Mitchell dunked in transition and finished a three-point play; Davis dumped in a layup, and Temple turned a steal into a running dunk at 2:04 that stretched the margin to a decisive 69-53.
"Everybody from LSU came to play and they really out-worked us," said Rhodes.
The Tigers also worked much more efficiently than a State team still struggling to put together both a backcourt rotation and cohesive attack. "It's obvious, you can't turn the ball over as much as we did and beat a quality team like LSU. I think that's where the difference lies, our ability to execute offensively."
For their part LSU did just that, balancing strength with shooting and decent enough defense. The Tigers might not have the best record in the SEC at the moment, but after their all-around effort Wednesday night it should be just a matter of time according to State's coach.
"Right now in my opinion they're the best team in the league," Stansbury said. Meanwhile his own team is looking at a weekend visit to Vanderbilt and the threat of falling even farther behind in the first month of the conference campaign. Last Saturday after a loss at Ole Miss, Rhodes called the midweek home game a "must-win" for the Bulldogs. So, what does that make this Saturday's matchup?
"I should say the same thing," Rhodes agreed. "We've got to win. I hate losing, it's real frustrating."