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LSU 97 - Mississippi State 94: Awesome

It was the biggest win in recent LSU basketball history.  The biggest win since the Final Four run a couple years ago, in the biggest game we've played in years, and the biggest game in the SEC in weeks, at least.

It is absolutely inexcusable that Raycom Sports declined to televise this game, instead giving us a laugher of a game between 14-8 Tennessee and 9-15 Georgia, winless in the SEC.  The only surprise was how little fight Georgia put up in losing by 31.

Mississippi State and LSU put on a show that probably would have made Raycom's "Best of Raycom" features for years to come, except that no TV cameras were there.  A double-overtime game where each side featured great plays by great players, where each side featured young players making big plays and egregious errors, where both sides endured the loss of key players.

Especially LSU.  The Tigers played 4 forwards for significant minutes.  Three of them fouled out and the other ended the game with 4 fouls.  Chris Johnson and Quintin Thornton were no match for Jarvis Varnado inside and both fouled out, while Varnado got 31 points and 8 rebounds, before fouling out himself in the first overtime.  Storm Warren also fouled out, after making a few critical plays and a few costly mistakes.  

In all, four Tigers fouled out in a terribly foul-plagued game.  Terry Martin was the other player dismissed for excessive fouling.  In all, the Tigers committed 32 fouls and 21 turnovers.  Mississippi State committed 25 fouls and 11 turnovers, but their foul total is a little skewed because they ended the game in foul-mode.  I can't comment about the officiating because, of course, it wasn't on television, but there was a wide disparity in foul shots taken.

And let's talk about other disparities in the game.  We committed 10 more turnovers than MSU and they took 52 free throws to our 39 (both remarkably high totals even for a double-overtime game).  Not only did MSU take a bajillion free throws, but they made 79% of the ones they took.  In all, MSU outscored us by 14 at the free throw line, and outscored us in points-off-turnovers as well.

We also endured a cold shooting night from our best scorer, Marcus Thornton, who hit only 6 of 19 shots en route to a quiet 19 points thanks to some 3-pointers and 4 of 6 shooting from the foul line.  Not only that, but our starting point guard, Bo Spencer, left the game in the second half with an ankle injury and did not return.

Our lineup on the floor at the end of the game was Taz, Garrett Temple, Marcus Thornton, Chris Bass, and Alex Farrer.  Taz and Temple ended the game with 4 fouls.  Temple had been playing with 4 fouls since late in regulation.  He scored a total of 2 points on the night.  Bass did not score.  Chris Johnson fouled out in 16 minutes and did not score.

So how did we win this game?

Tasmin Mitchell!  Taz has run hot and cold all season shooting the ball, but he has worked hard every single game.  He almost single-handedly willed us to victory last night, in a game where no one else really seemed to come up big at all.  He scored 41 points on 12 of 15 shooting, and hit 15 of 18 free throws.  He also was responsible for getting Varnado to foul out of the game (and had Varnado stayed in, we almost certainly would have lost because we could not stop him at all).  He also pulled down 11 rebounds and led the team in assists with 5.  He and Thornton played a total of 98 minutes.

Taz's last points on the night was a 3-point play that broke a 93-93 tie and provided us with the winning points.

Give Terry Martin a little credit too.  He played his best game in a long time before he fouled out.  He finally hit some shots, going 4 of 7 from the field and 2 of 2 from 3-point-range, scoring 11 points overall off the bench.  With Temple shooting cold, Thornton not his usual self, and Spencer on the bench hurt, we needed those points bad and Martin came through.

We got a little help.  Mississippi State is a big 3-point shooting team, but they hit only 5 of 24 from outside the arc.  I would say you can credit the defense of Temple for that, but because the game was not televised, I did not see that.  MSU's leading scorer, Ravern Johnson, was not a factor as he went 2 of 6 from the field and scored only 5 points in only 30 minutes of work despite not being in foul trouble.  One wonders why he did not play more.

It was a huge win for us.  As I described in the preview post, this win puts us in the driver's seat in the West, giving us essentially a 3-game lead over the field with only 7 games to go.  It's also a resume win in a season that will not be providing a lot of opportunities for resume wins.  Winning this one probably puts us on track to comfortably make the tournament (though Poseur can probably provide better insight into that).  A loss would have left us fighting and clawing.  Now we pretty must just have to win the games we're supposed to win.

Next up is Ole Miss.  Let's hope Spencer is OK.