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GAMETHREAD: No. 21 LSU vs. Auburn, 1 P.M., ESPN2

Tigers return home after sweating out a tight game at Mississippi State

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Mississippi State Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers’ tough month of February rolls along Saturday afternoon. After a disappointing loss to Arkansas last week, and a rally to force overtime and pull one out against Mississippi State, LSU welcomes a quality Auburn team that’s won three straight.

Auburn’s season mirrors Mississippi State’s, LSU’s previous opponent. The Tigers and Bulldogs both started the season ranked, climbed higher up the polls- Auburn reached as high as No. 7 in the country- but has had a tough go of things in league play and each fell out of the top-25.

Auburn stumbled out of the gates in SEC play, dropping their conference opener to Ole Miss and then lost three consecutive games: a two-point loss to Kentucky, a three-point loss at South Carolina, and an eight-point loss at The Hump in Starkville. Since that losing skid, however, Auburn’s reeled off three wins in a row and they’ve been total routs winning by 34, 21 and 14.

Like LSU, Auburn is led by a smaller point guard in junior Jared Harper. The 5’11” point guard leads Auburn scoring with 15 points and also averages the most on the team in road contests with 17 points. If Harper is Auburn’s version Tremont Waters, sophomore forward Chuma Okeke is their equivalent to Naz Reid. Okeke is the Tigers’ third-leading scorer and top rebounder and isn’t afraid to step behind the line a shoot the three. Okeke’s shot the third most threes for Auburn and knocks them down about 34 percent of the time.

Speaking of the three-ball, LSU has to be prepared to defend it because Auburn shoots a ton of them. The Tigers as a team have shot nearly 700 threes and they’ve knocked down about 37 percent of them. That’s about 11 threes made on a per-game basis, which puts them on pace to finish 24th in NCAA history. Auburn has shooters everywhere and LSU has to be ready to run them off the line.

How often LSU gets to the free throw line will go a long way in determining the outcome of today’s game. When Auburn holds opponents to fewer than 20 free throws they’re 10-0. LSU only shot one three-pointer in the first half against Mississippi State, which Will Wade owed to wanting good shots, but having a bigger desire to get the ball in the painted area. LSU should try to counter Auburn’s barrage from three by pounding the ball inside with Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams. Reid and Bigby-Williams are 6’10” and 6’11” respectively, and both weigh 250 pounds; Auburn’s frontcourt of Okeke and Anfernee McLemore are 6’8” 230 and 6’7” 220. LSU may not be able to keep up with Auburn if it gets into a three-point contest, but Auburn doesn’t have the size to stop the Tiger frontcourt.