I disagree with the announcers who said we "stole" that game. I think far fewer games are "stolen" than are generally said to have been. In tonight's game, we outplayed Ole Miss in the first ten minutes, after which we were leading 25-18. Ole Miss outplayed us badly in the next ten minutes, after which they were ahead 37-32. We played close to even in the next ten minutes, after which Ole Miss was ahead 60-52. Then we outplayed them in the last ten minutes, after which we were ahead 73-66.
Both teams had big runs. LSU finished the game with a 19-4 run. Ole Miss had a 21-6 run from the 9:22 mark of the first half to the first few seconds of the second half. Take out those two runs, and LSU outscored Ole Miss by 7 points during the remainder of the game. It just so happens that our run to cancel out their run came at the very end of the game.
It was a big win, and one we most definitely did not have in the bag until the very end. We escaped a trap situation and got the win. Every conference win is big, but this one was especially nice because it let us extend our lead over the competition in the SEC. we go to 9-1 with 6 games left, but Mississippi State lost to Auburn (I guess they had their own let-down), pushing them to 6-4, and they're still our closest competition in the West. Because we hold tie-breaker advantage over the Bulldogs, we essentially have a 4 game lead over the field in the SEC West with only 6 games left. Our magic number in the West is 3.
Not only that, but with Florida also losing, that's one fewer 3-loss team in the SEC East. Now only Tennessee, South Carolina, and Kentucky remain as 3-loss teams, and we have tie-breaker advantage of Tennessee and South Carolina. We can actually start talking about winning the SEC regular season championship! So long as we keep playing well, only Kentucky is in reasonable striking distance, and they would still need help to pass us.
As for the game itself, Ole Miss played their game and made it a snooze-fest in the middle 20 minutes. It was particularly galling how they were able to get rebound after rebound on the offensive end. We finally clamped down on the defensive glass during our big run at the end, and we didn't miss a lot of shots, so we closed the gap in rebounding statistics, but Ole Miss beat us in offensive rebounds 14-7.
As usual, we were led offensively by Taz and Marcus Thornton, who combined for 42 points. Watching Thornton play this season has been a treat. He is SOOO much better than he was last season. Has anyone noticed how often he gets rebounds? He pulled down 8 tonight and is averaging 5.2 per game on the season, 6.0 per game in conference play. He also plays very solid defense. He also gets assists and doesn't commit a ton of turnovers for someone who has the ball as much as he does. He committed 6 against MSU, but that was definitely an outlier.
It was good to see Chris Johnson play well again. He disappeared offensively for about 3 games, averaging less than 5 per over that stretch, but broke out with a nice 12 point effort tonight, along with 6 blocks, and he stayed out of foul trouble after fouling out in just 16 minutes on Wednesday. He had a tough night on the glass, as he was the one victimized for a lot of those offensive rebounds, as he kept going for blocks instead of blocking out.
Garrett Temple played well on the point, and Terry Martin filled in very well for Garrett at the 3-spot. The team is better with Spencer running the point, but I can't say we're a dramatically different team like I thought we would be.
One of very curious stories of the night is why Alex Farrer got so many minutes, especially late. Terry Martin played well, but Farrer was in for most of the last 10 minutes. I guess it was just because the team was playing so well with Farrer at the 3-spot, but it didn't seem to be because of anything Farrer was doing. He really struggled out there, as he was victimized defensively on a drive by Huertas; he missed his first three free throw attempts; and he committed a bad turnover right at the end that gave Ole Miss a possession in which they cut the lead to 3 with an opportunity to keep fouling.
Ultimately, Farrer hit the last two free throws to ice the game, which incidentally were the only two points that any bench player scored for LSU all night, and that's the real problem with Spencer being out. It forces Terry Martin, who is our only real threat to score off the bench, into the starting lineup. I think tonight was something of an aberration, as Quentin Thornton is usually good for a bucket or two, and Storm Warren actually had a double-digit scoring night against MIssissippi State (thanks to overtime). But we were thin off the bench even with Spencer in the lineup. Now we have to play our starters big big minutes or we're in trouble.
I looked up one time and saw a lineup of Bass, Temple, Martin, Warren, and Johnson and I wondered how on earth that lineup would score, and three of those guys are starters now. When Taz and M. Thornton are on the bench, we don't have a very dynamic offense at all. At least with Spencer in there, we would have had the opportunity to push for transition baskets or to get driving layups or kickout passes.
I sure can't wait to get him back. The schedule eases up this week, as we get Arkansas on Wednesday (though it will be in Fayetteville, a very hostile environment). They have suspended their most dynamic player, Courtney Fortson, and I don't imagine he'll be back on Wednesday. We'll have to contend with another big inside presence in Michael Washington, but Arkansas really will have little else to throw at us. After that, we get Auburn at home. They run hot and cold, but they're a below-.500 SEC team right now. They've won 3 straight though, including wins against Tennessee and Mississippi State. They're a threat, but they aren't among the best in the conference. We'll really need Spencer back the next week, as we get Florida and Kentucky in back-to-back games, by far the toughest stretch remaining on the schedule before post-season.