On the scoreboard, yesterday really could not have gone better for LSU. Not only did we get the win over Arkansas, but every other 1-loss team lost their game, as did the #3 team in the SEC West, Auburn. We now sit alone atop the SEC with a 5-1 mark, including 2 road wins. We got a little distance between us and Mississippi State, the #2 team in the SEC West, by virtue of their loss to Ole Miss. In the East, Kentucky and Florida lost to send them to 2 losses each.
On the court, things were a little scary. After racing out to a 23 point lead in the first half, Arkansas slowly chipped away at the lead, until they were behind by only 5 points and had possession of the ball with 4:00 to play.
Arkansas missed a 3-pointer, and then Tasmin Mitchell scored the next 5 points of the game to push us back out to a 10 point lead and things got a lot more comfortable. We hit our free throws down the stretch and held our lead, despite the Razorbacks hitting a couple 3's towards the end.
Something is happening such that we are not playing good basketball for long stretches in the second half of games. Part of it is the Tasmin MItchell is struggling to get his shot to fall. Last night, he was 4 of 13. He had a quiet night against Tennessee, going 5 of 9, and against Xavier he was 5 of 17. He came up big at the end, making his last 2 shots and scoring 7 of his 11 points in the last 4 minutes of the game when we needed them most desperately, but he struggled mightily for most of the game before that.
Another part of the struggles is that the team seems to go into an offensive funk whenever Marcus Thornton goes into an offensive funk. Last night, Thornton scored 13 points in the first 12 minutes of the game as LSU was building its big lead. Over the next 21 minutes, he scored 1 point. He finished with 18, a nice night but he appeared to be heading to another 30 point night for a while.
Not to be all doom and gloom, let's remember that we did in fact jump out to that 23 point lead, and that powered us to a victory. All conference victories are big, and this one is no exception. Arkansas is one of those teams that, despite not being a great team, really provided us with some matchup problems. Razorback center Michael Washington is the type of player who should strike fear into the hearts of Tiger fans, as he is the big skilled center that can out-muscle our guys down low. Not a lot of teams in the SEC have that big center, and we've now beaten 2 of the 4 teams in the conference who have that player. Vandy (AJ Ogilvy) and Kentucky (Patrick Patterson) loom in the future.
We are now 6 games into the 16 game conference season. We've played and beaten three 2-loss SEC teams. We get the only remaining winless team next, as we play Georgia in Athens on Wednesday. We're better, but it's on the road, which is always dangerous. And while we're better, we're not so much better than anyone that we can safely assume victory before the game is played.