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LSU 75, Ole Miss 71: Tigers Rebel Against The Trend

It's always a good day when LSU wins and Ole Miss loses

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

This could have been bigger than you think.

For all of LSU's road struggles in the SEC under Johnny Jones and closing out games this season, escaping in the Tad Pad should do wonders for this team. And they overcame a good bit to get it done.

I mean, it's not often you survive a 43-point second half from the opponent, much less away from home. It's not often that squandering an 11-point lead by surrendering a 12-0 run actually refocuses you. It's not often LSU will get doubled up on the boards in a second half.

All of this actually happened, and yet it's a huge step forward for LSU. After blowing late leads against Clemson, Missouri and Georgia, the Tigers nearly did it several times over Wednesday night. Instead, they came up with winning plays down the stretch - forgetting that strange and disjointed final sequence of turnovers. They got the stops down the stretch. They made 15 of their last 17 free throws. They stayed out of foul trouble and had their optimal lineups on the floor in crunch time.

Though they still hit some lulls, the Tigers for long stretches looked like the team many hoped to see this year. Aggressive, bullying near the rim, pushing the agenda in transition and most of all, led by a steady hand at point guard. Yes, Josh Gray finally seemed to settle into SEC play, doling out 10 assists to go with 14 points and breaking down Ole Miss' defense for a lot of open looks for everybody else. It was the first double-double with assists for an LSU player since Dec. 22, 2012, when Charles Carmouche did it against Marquette. (And it was just the 2nd in the last decade, seeing as Tack Minor was the last one before Carmouche, and he did it against Ohio State on Jan. 15, 2005. That's exactly 10 years ago today.)

And the rest of the team mostly answered the bell with space to work. Jarell Martin wasn't his aggressive self in the first week of league play, but that was replaced with the Martin who was the league leader in points per game before conference play. He delivered 18 points and 14 rebounds to get back on track. Jordan Mickey swatted six shots and grabbed 11 boards. Keith Hornsby drained a slew of crucial 3-pointers to pace LSU with 23 points. All told, those four combined for 66 of LSU's 75 points.

This needs to be the first step, though. LSU probably needs 4 or 5 road wins in SEC play to reach their goal. There's still away games against Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas A&M, all places where LSU lost in their last trip. The moderate levels of poise the Tigers showed in taking down the Rebels need to be sharpened and refined, starting with a home game against Texas A&M this weekend.

I'm not ready to get on board the bandwagon again just yet, but winning in Oxford is a good start. There's a long road to March.