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LSU 80, Auburn 68: The Big Cat

LSU gets a league road win and keeps pace near the top of the SEC.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

It could have gone according to script.

Ten minutes in, the game on The Plains was a sloppy mess, and LSU looked like it was going to struggle mightily with one of the SEC's worst teams.

Then, the visiting Tigers turned on the jets and dusted the home Tigers, using Ben Simmons' big game and a second-half shooting clinic to cruise to an 80-68 win on Tuesday night. This won't do anything for LSU's postseason hopes, but it's a symbolic triumph. LSU went 1-2 against a bad Auburn team last season, nearly torching its NCAA resume twice.

That was in play in the teams' only meeting this season. Simmons had other designs. The freshman seemed steaming mad following the talk of his passive play down the stretch against Oklahoma, and he took it to Auburn. Simmons was relentless getting into the lane, a totally aggressive and confident offensive player. He finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.

For long stretches of the first half, he was the entirety of the LSU offense. This is the player we want to see, though it's not always this simple. Auburn was playing some matador defense, and Bruce Pearl strangely didn't try to pack it in to keep Simmons out of the lane. Still, Simmons flashed a couple outside shots and set the tone for this one.

Once he did that, his teammates were ready to help out. A 12-point first-half lead had dwindled to seven by halftime, and it looked like there'd be a good game going in Auburn Arena. LSU dispensed with that talk swiftly and with authority.

The P&G Tigers made 18 of their first 22 shots in the second half, running the home Tigers off their home floor en route to a 23-point lead in the waning minutes. LSU was active defensively, got out in transition and created open looks even when Simmons wasn't making the set-up pass. For approximately 10-12 minutes, LSU looked like an ideal version of itself.

Special shouts to Josh Gray, who spurred the run with 10 points and a couple steals. Craig Victor threw home a couple dunks to avenge a poor opening half. Aaron Epps added some scoring off the bench, finishing with six points.

This wouldn't be LSU basketball without there being some bad news. The Tigers played large swaths of the game without composure. They got out in transition too much in the first half and were totally sloppy passing the ball. It kept Auburn in the game even when they weren't getting any home cooking shooting the ball.

Then, in the final five minutes, Auburn threatened to make it a game when LSU basically pretended like the game was already over. Despite having a relatively young bunch, there's no excuse for allowing a team to chop a lead in half in just three minutes. It didn't cost LSU, but it's an unnerving sign with some big road games on the horizon.

But that's just slightly more than nitpicking. LSU handled its business on Tuesday night, almost making the game boring for long stretches. They moved to 3-2 in SEC road games, a crucial asset as they hope to build a tournament resume. SEC teams are winning 72% of home games this season, plus Kentucky and Georgia both lost to middle-of-the-pack league teams. That gives LSU sole possession of second place in the SEC, a game back of Texas A&M.

This team is far from perfect, but it's good to see they had at least enough resolve to not let the Oklahoma loss derail their season. Mississippi State is next and then South Carolina and Texas A&M in perhaps the most crucial week of the season.

LSU doesn't need to win all three, but they do need to avoid the bad loss, like they did at Auburn. After this performance on The Plains, you should feel just a smidge better about this team's prospects.