Let's get this out of the way first. Yes, LSU did what it needed to do today, emerging from its first road game in SEC play with a win.
That might be satisfactory for the Tigers' current state, but the way they played for much of Saturday afternoon won't fly the rest of the way. 19 turnovers, 24 personal fouls and 27 percent 3-point shooting will get you beat against almost anyone but South Carolina, even in the not-so-rugged SEC.
The good news? LSU appeared to snap out of its funk just in time. In fact, the game played out almost like an inverse of how I expected. With the starting lineup shuffled, it made sense that the Tigers would come out firing and hold on late. Instead, the first 30 minutes looked a lot like the losses to Rhode Island and Tennessee.
But this team may have turned a bit of a corner in building a lead it eventually held on to for dear life. Or at least it's reasonable to hope they did. Stringer finally found his stroke, South Carolina went six minutes without a field goal and Johnny O'Bryant III drilled a couple of jumpers. That was enough to keep LSU from being seriously threatened against a game Gamecocks squad.
Of foremost concern: this was perhaps the easiest road trip in conference play. USC is a bottom-tier SEC team and Colonial Life Arena doesn't have much of an aura to speak of (See: Frank Martin recently complaining about student attendance). Trips to Bud Walton Arena, Coleman Coliseum, Rupp Arena and the O'Connell center will all end in losses if LSU plays like it did today. There will likely be not one sure-thing road win for this team.
The final minutes only continued the myriad of problems that plagued them down the stretch against UMass and Texas Tech. Remember that game in Lubbock? LSU couldn't turn multiple 7-9 point leads into easy breathing near the buzzer. The Tigers had things on lock Saturday, up 64-50 with 5:45 left. And then LSU froze up. The Tigers didn't make another field goal, coughed the ball up seemingly at will and couldn't match the Gamecocks urgency in the final minutes.
Yet it's also fair to note that LSU made the few key plays it had to make to breathe easy at the buzzer. That wasn't the case against Tech or the Minutemen. Look no further than O'Bryant's crucial rebound after Hickey missed two free throws with 45 seconds left. It was a slightly more mature win, if only because stopped a losing streak and didn't require sweating out a buzzer-beater.
On that maturity note, Jarell Martin's performance may be the biggest takeaway here. Despite getting benched, he finally got long looks at the 4 thanks to Jordan Mickey's early struggles and JOB's foul trouble, scoring 18 points along the way. He looked the part of a nimble power forward, finishing strong on a couple And-1s and being active on the boards for a few put backs. The problem now is finding minutes for him down low with JOB and Mickey entrenched there. Doing so could unlock some matchup advantages going forward, considering the shooting range Martin has.
Overall, LSU didn't show a ton we didn't already know. LSU has really only fired on all cylinders twice this season (St. Joe's and UAB). When the Tigers are missing that complete spark, every SEC game might be a struggle. Today was fine because it was a win. With Ole Miss, Missouri and Kentucky on the near horizon, a performance like today better spur bigger and better things or the loss column could see some higher numbers.