Before this undoubtedly devolves into a giant negative rant about the state of the team, I’ll just throw out some team stats. Both teams had 14 turnovers, State out-rebounded LSU 40-39. Normally that’d make for a close game. LSU’s defense isn’t a normal defense. Mississippi State shot 54% from the field, way better than their season average of 44%. They achieved this feat, as well as falling short of the century mark by only five points, on the road.
You can blame Johnny’s passive, lackluster offense all you want. The offense isn’t the problem for this team. Even before the team lost Craig Victor for the season, this issue of having no answer for absolutely anything on defense is harshly apparent. Something has got to change somewhere with the team we have, because newsflash: there are 16 games left in the regular season. Give better defensive players more minutes, lock down and make the defensive gameplan the absolute highest priority, find a guru in the Himalayas, something.
The second half really wasn’t that bad, honestly. LSU actually outscored the Bulldogs 45-43. You just can’t overcome a 19 point deficit at halftime without a few miracles, you can’t keep giving up 50+ points in one half. When the other team is outscoring you off turnovers 25-10 and on fast breaks 14-2, there is a far larger issue than your own scoring. The players are skilled enough to overcome mediocrity on offensive gameplanning, but the effort just isn’t there to help on defense. “I think it’s really communication,” Skylar Mays suggested. “We’re not doing a great job of that right now. Things will click, we’re working on it in practice, we’ll get better with it.”
On the positive side of things, Antonio Blakeney and Duop Reath combined for 36 points, with Reath notching a double-double from leading the game with 13 points, as well as blocking three shots. Skylar Mays was again very effective on offense, contributing 10 points and another 5 assists. The issue for the forwards beyond Reath couldn’t be more apparent, as Aaron Epps and Wayde Sims combined for 7 of the team’s 14 turnovers. “We created offense for them with our bad offense,” Blakeney added after the game. Turnovers is one thing, but turning around and letting them score afterwards was the bigger issue. “We’ve got guys who are in a position to make plays who aren’t used to it, playing more minutes than they usually would be,” Coach Jones added. Epps and Sims are just being out-sized right now, hopefully they will grow through experience and practice to form a more agreeable relationship as Reath’s backup.
With the way this game went, it’d be easy to crucify the team and guarantee a 9-21 record. There are some winnable games left on the schedule, but a losing season really feels like an imminent reality right now. Yeah, Craig Victor is gone and that’s tough to overcome with our limited depth at forward, but that’s no excuse. There are signs of a decent, winning team in here somewhere. They won the second half, they came back at Mizzou and had a great second half there. The tough part is, the schedule only gets harder. These first three games were arguably the easiest part of the SEC schedule, and it really sucks they couldn’t come away with at least two wins there. But again, adjustments can be made, effort can be inspired. It starts in practice, and hopefully we’ll watch this team grow into something to be proud of come March.
The Tigers go on the road again on Wednesday, January 11th against the Texas A&M Aggies. The Aggies are 8-6 overall, 0-3 in conference play. That contest will tip off at 7:30pm on the SEC Network in the Reed Arena.