That was certainly a nice surprise.
For 30 minutes, LSU looked ready to deliver a classic LSU hoops stinker. Ole Miss was winning the hustle balls, getting to the lane at will, and the Tigers’ stars were struggling. And just like that, it all turned.
Antonio Blakeney broke out down the stretch and Ben Simmons asserted himself, as LSU overcame an absolutely phenomenal night for Stefan Moody. He was every bit as good as advertised and more. But the Tigers actually showed a little fortitude, sealing a much-needed victory with a dominant late push.
This honestly felt like it was verging on a disaster much of the night. The Rebels came into the PMAC and played like a very desperate team. They took it to LSU, and really deadened a strong PMAC crowd, building leads as large as eight and six points in the first and second halves, respectively. They had control. But there’s no doubt foul trouble had helped the cause. Five players, including Ben Simmons, Craig Victor and Tim Quarterman, sat for significant stretches of the opening half. Even when those players responded with a strong final period, the Rebels remained positioned to all but clip LSU’s postseason goals before we hit mid-January.
They can thank Stefan Moody for that. The 5-foot-10 guard wasn’t just the engine for the Rebels. He might as well have been the entire vehicle. Moody came in averaging 24 and dropped 33, and he did so in every which way. He drilled six 3s, some from a distant planet, and followed it up by doing his damage mostly inside the paint once LSU ran him off the line. Moody was the best player (not the best talent) LSU has played this year, and it hasn’t been particularly close.
But the Tigers survived him. Ole Miss players not named Moody scored a mere 5 points in the final 10 minutes, and he didn’t score after the final official timeout. LSU outscored Ole Miss by 14 in those decisive 10 minutes. The loose balls started putting LSU out in transition and the rebounds clanged toward the Tigers.
That’s where Blakeney and Simmons come in. Simmons played his absolute worst game well into the second half and then collected himself, dishing out six assists in the final half and settling LSU’s offense down. Simmons seems like a curious case for this team, as sometimes they do look a bit more sound and in flow when he’s off the floor. There’s still some integrating to do, especially in spacing on offense.
Of course, it will look easier when Blakeney plays like this. Quiet for the vast majority of the night, he scored all of his 15 points in one surreal 5-minute push that swung the game completely into LSU’s favor. It’s easy to forget that the expectations for this season didn’t just come from Simmons. Bringing in a five-star like Blakeney and four-star talents in Victor and Brandon Sampson was supposed to be an instant talent infusion after Martin and Mickey’s departures.
It had not played out like that yet this year, although Blakeney has been showing signs, and it started to blossom against the Rebels. Blakeney seemed more confident in his shot, showed a nimble scoring touch in the lane and — perhaps most importantly — drained all seven of his free-throw attempts. Blakeney needs to be better for this team to see March, and he saved LSU and Johnny Jones on Wednesday night.
It was a disaster waiting to happen against Ole Miss, one we’ve seen over and over again from this program. For now, they’ve only flipped a small part of the script. LSU is much more than a home win over Ole Miss away from reaching the tournament, but the gumption and resilience they showed in downing the Rebels is a good start.
If the Tigers can finish like they did against Ole Miss on a season-long scale, then this game will have continued to build the foundation.