LSU 92, Mississippi State 81: Fool's Gold

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

A win was necessary but not a cure-all. The Tigers won the game by showing up and did little else in cruising past the Bulldogs.

This was LSU basketball in a nutshell.

For a game ostensibly about getting right after a brutal two weeks, the Tigers couldn't even capture the attention of their own fanbase. As the baseball game kicked up, Syracuse and Florida tangoed with upsets and a fourth string quarterback/basketball SID's impromptu halftime press conference announcing an impending transfer, the action on the hardwood was of little concern.

This is still what LSU basketball is all about - spirited questioning about which crowd was larger: the record crowd at Southeastern for a February baseball game or the sparse attendance for a late-season SEC home game. In the end, the dim spotlight didn't much matter, because LSU revealed nothing new in staving off the Bulldogs.

It's like the Tigers showed their hand for a 24-4 opening blitz but decided to simply call State the rest of the way instead of bankrupting the visitor. The killer instinct still isn't there. The defense is still wholly porous. LSU can still play with anyone. At home. Beating Mississippi State is like telling a student they get five points on a test just for writing their name. LSU showed up, reaching the bare minimum required of it on a night when, frankly, not many people cared.

The Tigers road woes are notorious these days. Of course they can't win away games. But this game was final proof that LSU's main problem, defense, permeates the PMAC's walls, too. State, one of the league's worst offensive teams, shot 50 percent from the field, attempted 36 free throws and made it five straight games that LSU has allowed 80-plus points.

In fact, foes are averaging 80.2 points against the Tigers in the last nine games, and LSU hasn't given up fewer than 71 points since Jan. 18 vs. Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs scored 77 points in the final 31 minutes. That defense travels to Rupp Arena on Saturday. That sound you hear is John Calipari salivating.

On the surface, it seemed like a good night offensively. A season high in points, Jarell Martin's first 20-point outing and five guys in double figures are all positives. No doubt Martin had an exemplary game, but the offense still wasn't as well oiled as it should be. Sixteen turnovers (a 20.5% turnover rate) kept State hanging around, there was still too much reliance on 3-pointers and Johnny O'Bryant had a putrid 2-of-11 shooting night for a whopping six points against an underwhelming front line. I don't want to hear the foul trouble excuse. Andre Stringer poured in 14 playing half of JOB's 25 minutes.

This all may sound unnecessarily harsh for a team that rarely led by less than 10 points en route to an easy win. But this program's expectations are no longer about beating a SEC cellar dweller at home. It's about being able to compete with top-25 programs and consistently beat top-100 programs on the road. LSU showed on Wednesday night the same symptoms that provided the away struggles. The Tigers get another chance to show ranked potential this weekend against Kentucky in Lexington . This game provided no confidence LSU will emerge with a season-changing victory.


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