Some breathing room, finally.
LSU finally did exactly what it needed to do, facing off with a bad opponent and never really leaving the outcome in doubt. LSU led by at least six points for almost the entire game and finished the host Tigers off with a 15-0 run midway through the 2nd half. It's exactly the kind of performance LSU needed at this juncture of the season, with postseason play approaching in mere weeks.
They also reached some milestones, or at least somewhat important accomplishments for this team. The 20th win already ties for the most in the Johnny Jones era. They've clinched a winning away record in the SEC, which is no small feat for where this program's been. Remember, LSU went a combined 5-13 in league road games during Johnny Jones' first two seasons. They've also matched their SEC win total from each of the last two years. It marked the first time LSU has won consecutive games after Feb. 1 since exactly two years ago.
So the task is simple for LSU now: Win 2 out of 3 games to close out the regular season (Home vs. Ole Miss & Tenn plus a road trip to Arkansas) and get at least one victory in the SEC Tournament. Do that, and not only will LSU likely make the NCAA Tournament, but they should also avoid a dreaded First Four game in Dayton. That's a reasonable goal and the Tiger team that showed up in Auburn looks capable of achieving it.
Even though LSU piled up the points, this was really an effort spurred by the defense. Once LSU started getting stops consistently, that's when they stretched the lead from two possessions to a blowout. Remember, Auburn embarrassed LSU to the tune of 81 points in the PMAC less than three weeks ago. While the Plainsmen weren't nearly as hot beyond the arc, the visitors also put the clamps down after intermission, with Jordan Mickey swatting several shots, the guards closing out shooters and offensive rebounds kept to a minimum.
That just complemented the consistently potent offense. I mean, LSU really couldn't be stopped, which isn't a huge surprise, considering Auburn inexplicably tried to make the game a full-court one after a zone worked well in Baton Rouge. This time, a slew of transition buckets and a healthy dose of unselfish ball movement completely broke down Auburn.
And again, as it seems to go lately, Jarell Martin was out in front. There were no highlight-reel worthy dunks this time but he was the catalyst with another double-double of 25 points, 11 rebounds. There was just nobody on Auburn with the right combo of size and ability to guard him, keep him away from the rim or stop his increasingly lethal pull-up jumpers. When he plays like an All-SEC player, LSU is the kind of team capable of winning by 23 on the road or taking Kentucky to the buzzer.
He wasn't alone, of course. Special nod to Jalyn Patterson, who drilled a quartet of run-staving 3-pointers en route to a 16-point night. More than that, he dished out seven assists, spurring the offense out of stagnation before Auburn could ever threaten LSU. Mickey added a relatively quiet 14 points, as he was more valuable defensively to set the tone in the 2nd half. Keith Hornsby was solid enough, knocking down enough perimeter shots to keep Auburn from locking down the paint, where LSU outscored their fellow Tigers, 52-18. Even Josh Gray made some nifty passes and finished a couple tough lay-ins in traffic.
Again, there's just not a whole lot to criticize from this performance, unless you think Johnny Jones should have pulled the starters sooner - and considering LSU's depth/minutes issues, I do. If anything, it makes you scratch your head how this team ever lost to Auburn, at home, in the first place.
But for now, LSU heads home for a positively crucial two-game stretch and with some momentum to boot, not just from winning but finally playing exactly as well as they're capable of.