Well, LSU was determined to make me stick to my words.
I said that style points didn't matter for this one, but boy did the Tigers stretch that to the limit.
There were long scoring droughts, boundless turnovers, reckless shots around the rim and just an ugly game all around.
Yet you know what? That's all secondary right now, because this team is 16-4 and tied for second in the SEC. It showed a hell of a lot of effort, resolve and another notch on its clutch resume by making all the plays it needed to down the stretch against a game Gamecocks bunch. There's no doubt they will be battle tested come March.
It is not every day you see a team allow 19 offensive rebounds period, much less still win the game. You certainly won't see LSU out rebound by eight in total very often. Credit South Carolina for coming to play and doing the little things, like positioning and exerting max effort, to control the glass.
But you know what else you won't see too often? 13 blocks. Yes, you read that right. 13 blocks, including one of the most adrenaline-inducing sequences this season when Jordan Mickey sent back consecutive Carolina shots with authority in the game's waning moments. It was the kind of emphatic statement that the game desperately needed, since LSU was previously trying to drive fans away even if they won with a brutal offensive outing. Mickey's rejections erased a lot of that ill will in my mind and capped the game on resoundingly positive note.
And that's good, because LSU did do some things right. Remember, SC came in allowing only 60 points per game, so the Tigers are not the first team to suffer against that potent Frank Martin mix of zone and press. And they still managed to shoot a healthy 45.8% from the field. They mostly made their free throws in crunch time. They manufactured offense in the middle portion of the game with some spot-up 3s. Not to mention that Jalyn Patterson was absent and his steady hand at point and ability to stretch the defense was sorely missed as was his depth.
For all intents and purposes, this looked to be the latest in a long line of "egg games" for LSU, where the Tigers come out in front of a decent crowd with a winning streak in tow and crap the bed. It sure looked for a long time like this one was headed there. Instead, a 12-2 run proved that maybe (and I still don't even believe this fully yet) this team will indeed play down to competition but just has that clutch ability to win them, much like some of Les Miles' teams have had over the years. We're getting to the point where this isn't necessarily an accident.
So I'll dwell on the positives from this. LSU has won three consecutive SEC games for the first time in 2 years, a stretch of 37 league games. The Tigers are three games over .500 in conference for the first time since 2008-09. They've won 16 of their first 20 for the just the third time since 1990.
I still don't fully trust this team, but they've at least proven they won't fade and wither like many decent LSU teams have done in recent memory. The quest for meaningful March basketball inches closer for this program. We're almost there, with games like tonight's showing the finish line in reach but highlighting the improvements that still need to be made.