Go into Lubbock and get out as fast as you can. And if you're rolling through the plains of West Texas, you might as well grab a win while you're at it.
LSU did what it had to and little else in escaping with a 71-69 dub over Texas Tech on Wednesday night. In fact, it was the kind of erratic, exasperating performance that is increasingly becoming the Tigers hallmark this season.
Eighteen turnovers, some ill-advised aggressive defense and more mental lapses defined what would have been a fatal blow to LSU's postseason chances if Robert Turner's final 3-pointer had fallen. With Jarell Martin still easing back to full health and foul trouble marring the first half, it's still easy to give LSU a pass. But if the Tigers don't sort things out before they get to league play, then maybe this team has already shown us what it is.
And that team is one that will still struggle on the road to get by a league bottom-dweller like the Red Raiders. Texas Tech shot 36.4 percent from the field with 13 turnovers and still gave LSU everything it wanted. That was mostly thanks to a huge free-throw disparity, as a barrage of unnecessary LSU fouls and some generous whistles provided Tech with a 31-of-39 night at the line.
That kind of shooting kept Tech close, even as LSU opened up FIVE different leads of seven or more points. They would reach such heights because of the Tigers' Mr. Clutch, Anthony Hickey. The junior once again proved that LSU is an entirely different squad when he's running the offense to his liking. Hickey had a mere 16 points, but he absolutely controlled the game when he wanted to, dishing out four assists (to no turnovers) and stunting Tech runs with three second-half treys. He turned in a quintessential sequence three minutes into the half, knocking down a 3-pointer, copping a steal and knifing through traffic for a lay-in to take a 2-point game to a 51-44 advantage. When Hickey's on, he's an elite point guard, something the SEC is not exactly rich in.
But Hickey was about the only player who truly earned his stripes in Lubbock. Johnny O'Bryant III turned the ball over thrice, including a crucial traveling violation on LSU's penultimate possession. Shavon Coleman shot the ball well beyond the arc, going 3-for-4, yet his sloppy ball-handling makes him a liability on the dribble. Martin was reckless, Darcy Malone was nondescript, John Odo couldn't catch that Anthony Jennings touchdown against Arkansas much less a pass in the paint, Andre Stringer cooled after another hot start and Jordan Mickey was hampered by persistent foul trouble.
LSU went on the road and shot a 52/47/67 line and was only out-rebounded by one. There's no reason the Tigers should have sweated out that win, given that Texas Tech's best victory is against Northern Colorado (RPI of 164) and was picked ninth out of 10 teams in the Big 12. The Red Raiders are comparable to the Vanderbilts and Texas A&Ms of the SEC this year, games that should be marked off as sure-wins for an LSU team with NCAA Tournament aspirations. Those teams are a step below Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas, all of which LSU gets away from the PMAC. If the escape in Lubbock is any indication, LSU will have a hell of time coming out of Coleman Coliseum, the Tad Pad or Bud Walton Arena with road wins they must have during the next two months.
By now, LSU is still a team just showing flashes. Against their best competition, the Tigers rise to the occasion, putting together solid, if erratic, outings against Memphis, St. Joe's, UMass and Butler. But St. Joe's was the only one close to a "complete" performance, and the other eight games have all been some variation of LSU struggling to eliminate long scoring droughts or frustrating mental lapses. With UAB coming into Saturday's game as LSU's only remaining quality non-conference matchup, the Tigers might want to clean things up before they're stuck with a non-conference defeat they can't recover from. Lubbock and Tech almost wrecked them enough.