It was a tale of two halves, but ultimately, LSU was able to hold off a much-improved Arkansas team in the game's final seconds.
The Tigers rushed out to an early double digit lead in the game's first 7 minutes, and for a while, it looked like the game was over almost as soon as it had begun. With only 2 minutes left in the half, LSU had stretched the lead to 45-23, for one of their widest leads of the season. They were led by Charles Carmouche and Anthony Hickey's clutch outside shooting, while the Razorbacks' star B.J. Young failed to get involved in the team's offense.
However, the Razorbacks closed the half on a 9-0 run and narrowed the lead to only 7 points with 13 minutes left in the game. At that point, Johnny Jones called a timeout to get his team to regroup, while hoping to slow down his opponent's momentum. The tactic worked, as Arkansas's offense began to stagnate for the next 10 minutes.
However, LSU's offense was never in sync in the second half, as the team scored a paltry 20 points in the period. Andre Stringer was cold the entire night, while Johnny O'Bryant III saw limited action due to foul trouble. JOB III finished the game with only 5 points in 21 minutes, his lowest totals since LSU's early SEC struggles.
The struggles on offense were also due to Arkansas's unique defensive philosophy. Since the days of legendary coach Nolan Richardson, the school has been renowned for their defensive intensity and ball pressure that is intended to create a hectic pace, leading to turnovers and quick fast break opportunities. Despite the importance of the game for an Arkansas team looking to snatch one of the last at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament, the team did not play with their signature intensity in the first half.
In the second half, though, almost every single LSU possession looked like it could end in a turnover. The Tigers ultimately had 18 turnovers in the game, and Arkansas's full court pressure helped trim the Tigers' lead to two with little more than a minute left.
However, the Razorbacks' comeback ended on two plays. First, B.J. Young was correctly called for a charge with 30 seconds to go. In fact, he could have been called for an offensive push-off just seconds before. After another poor LSU offensive possession though, Arkansas once again had the ball. This time, JOB III muscled his way to a crucial rebound after another miss from Young, getting fouled in the process. Despite a quiet day, O'Bryant still made an impact on the game, hitting one of his free throws and giving LSU a 65-60 lead.
Despite some costly turnovers, Charles Carmouche was again LSU's best player last night. Carmouche finished the game with 26 points on 9-11 shooting, marking his third 20 point game in the past two weeks.
Although the team's consistent struggles from the free throw line are worrying, as yet again some crucial misses in the final minutes kept Arkansas in the game, Tiger fans have to be very pleased with their team's performance.
With the win, LSU is now 8-7 in conference and play, and their overall record is 17-9, far better than any basketball pundit could have imagined. The Tigers' next game is at 3:00 on Saturday at Missouri. While the NCAA Tournament is still out of the picture for now, a road win against Missouri would be the most impressive mark on the team's resume.
Meanwhile, Arkansas is 17-11 with the same conference record.