This one won't go in the Louvre, but that doesn't matter right now.
For the second game in a row, LSU brought it's C game and still emerged with a gutty victory over a surging SEC squad. For all of LSU's flaws in this one, Arkansas deserves some credit. The Hogs delivered a game effort and really controlled the run of play. They'll be a capable spoiler this season with an unusual talent shortage.
At the end of the day, LSU is 4-1 in the SEC and in sole possession of second place in the conference. Their next game? A trip to first-place A&M. It's a great start to the SEC slate but there'll hardly be a bunch of confidence entering that Tuesday tilt, even after Craig Victor's put-back with four seconds to play secured the win.
The reasons for such doubt were on display throughout the game. Arkansas was able to free up shooters all night long, even with a solid LSU defensive effort. Johnny Jones curiously decided to zone the SEC's best 3-point shooting team and it really staked the Hogs to a five-point halftime advantage. At that point, Simmons and Victor were non-factors offensively, the free-throw shooting was awful and the mood in the PMAC was dour. Even Josh Gray's 11 first-half points (15 total) were overshadowed by a lethargic effort by almost every other player.
The Tigers changed the tide with a simple solution: They turned inside. Simmons and Victor scored eight of LSU's first 10 in the second half, and it was a different game from there. Victor took some shots I'm not totally okay with — every LSU big man seems to have a one-track mind when they catch the ball in the post — but he was the difference maker in the final 20 minutes. His free-throw shooting leaves something to be desired but he brings a rebounding and defensive presence this team is often short of during long stretches of many games and his touch around the rim is soft. 16 points and 12 rebounds is nothing to scoff at.
As for Simmons, he remains an enigma. The likely All-American had a horrible first half really for a fourth straight game, which is concerning. He seems out of the flow at times, too content to bull to the rim or set up ISO sets without setting up his teammates. This doesn't even account for his shooting, which showed in an airball apiece from the field and at the free-throw line. Simmons said it was "the worst I've played all season."
To his credit, he can bounce back from these starts, and he was a catalyst in LSU's clinching stretch on Saturday night. Simmons scored eight of LSU's final 12 points, completing the five-point possession that really gave LSU the upper hand with three minutes remaining. He oscillates between freshman struggles and transcendence, which is expected. LSU still needs him to show more of the latter with consistency, because the Tigers aren't yet playing well enough to reach 12 or 13 SEC wins at this rate. That said, Simmons, like LSU, delivered a C effort and he dropped 16 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished five assists. They can survive for now with that.
Antonio Blakeney showed well again, scoring 10 and notching a key late steal. Tim Quarterman went missing with a scoreless night and a +/- of -20 — negative 20! He's a conundrum almost every night out. Gray was aggressive but under control in a sterling effort at point. Patterson was decent enough given TQ's issues. Johnny really tightened the rotation in this one, and that's good. LSU didn't have much room for error.
And that's where this team is. They're good enough to be 4-1 in the SEC against a tough opening stretch, but bad enough that they've been largely dominated for the vast majority of two consecutive home games. Now, LSU made enough plays down the stretch to get the wins. Credit is due, since this week would've been an 0-2 week for so many past Tiger squads. They're getting it done when they don't have their best and that's important.
Then again, these next two weeks contain some enormous challenges and resume opportunities for LSU. The Tigers don't look like a team fully ready for them. Beating a decent Arkansas team at home is nice, but the way they got there won't have any opponents quaking in their sneakers.
This team is just as frustrating as we've come to expect, and they do seem to play almost exactly to their competition. That was a net negative this week but could serve LSU well in the coming fortnight. Almost nothing would surprise me from this bunch by now.