Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tigers do Just Enough to beat Rebels

Sometimes the bottom line is the best thing to look at, hold on to and focus on.
Sometimes the process isn’t exactly wrapped up as neat as a coach or his players might want it to be.
No. 16-ranked LSU slugged past Ole Miss, 62-55, on Wednesday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, getting a methodically productive night from Tasmin Mitchell (19 points, 10 rebounds) and huge 3-point baskets from him and Terry Martin after the Rebels again closed within a single point with 5:12 left in the game.
The victory was the Tigers’ 19th in a row at home against an SEC opponent — an incredible streak that was extended in unspectacular fashion.
“Certainly this game is not going to be FedExed overnight to the Basketball Hall of Fame,” Rebels coach Andy Kennedy deadpanned after his team dropped its ninth consecutive SEC road game. “Neither coach was very happy with the flow of the game.”
John Brady wouldn’t argue that point, but he also had a little more to show at the end of the night.
“It’s great to win,” Brady said. “I will never apologize for it or give it back.”
The Tigers (13-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) prevailed because they did the same things they’ve done well most of the season — play stifling defense, control the backboards and find somebody in the right place at the right time to make plays when absolutely necessary.
LSU won despite what has become its glaring Achilles’ heel: Offensive execution.
For the fifth straight game, the Tigers scored 66 points or fewer — their longest such streak since the end of going seven games in a row under 66 at the end of the 2003-04 season — and seemed disjointed most of the night with the ball in their possession.
Shooting accurately wasn’t a major problem, but simply finding the right shot apparently was. LSU launched only 46 field goals, its third fewest this season, and made 21 (45.7 percent). Tigers All-American Glen Davis put only nine shots up, his fewest in an SEC game since Ole Miss limited him to five in March.
“We need to get a little bit better offensively,” Brady said after his team’s sixth straight win over the Rebels, the fourth in a row by seven points or fewer. “We can’t put it on our defense to win the game every night.”
Several times Wednesday, the Tigers toyed with blowing Ole Miss (12-6, 1-3) away.
In the first half, LSU belted the Rebels with a 15-5 haymaker to bolt to a 24-13 lead. Martin sandwiched 3-pointers around a free throw for seven straight points, Dameon Mason came off the bench to contribute back-to-back tough bank shots from the lane and Mitchell cranked in two mid-range jump shots to fuel the Tigers.
But LSU let Ole Miss off the mat by scrounging up only five more points over the last 7‰ minutes before halftime.
Same thing happened immediately after the break when Mitchell swished a pair of foul shots and Martin popped a 3 from the left baseline on an inbounds play. The Tigers had a nine-point lead (34-25) and it seemed like it was time to breathe easy.
The Rebels didn’t go along, getting their first nine points of the half from 6-foot-8, 280-pound Dwayne Curtis and hovering nearby the rest of the night.
“When we had an 11-point lead, and you don’t have to do anything but make two or three more stops and get two or three more critical baskets and it’s a 16-point lead which would have made it very difficult for the opponent,” Brady said. “We’re not to the point where we sense that, where we have that killer instinct.”
The Tigers were instinctive enough to figure out that Mitchell and Martin were their best options on a night when the Rebels bottled Davis up and limited him to 11 points and eight rebounds.
Whenever Ole Miss lunged closer, Mitchell, Martin or both delivered.
With LSU ahead 37-35, Martin fed Mitchell for a baseline jumper. When the Rebels clawed within 39-37 on Bam Doyne’s circle jumper, Mitchell drained another shot from the corner and Martin sliced along the endline for a reverse layup to nudge the LSU advantage back to 43-37.
When Ole Miss refused to buckle and got back within 43-42 on Clarence Sanders’ stickback jumper at the 5:12 juncture, Martin rifled in his fourth 3-pointer on the ensuing Tiger possession. Moments later, Mitchell took a pass from Martin and stuck a 3 and the dagger in the Rebels’ hearts — giving LSU a 53-46 edge and enough breathing room to survive.
“They were double-teaming Glen every time he got the ball, so the perimeter guys knew we had to step up,” said Martin, who scored 15 points and teamed with Mitchell to produce 22 of the Tigers’ 33 second-half points. Those two attempted 24 of LSU’s 46 field goals and 12 of the Tigers’ 17 3-pointers. “We just tried to help and knock down a shot.”
Just as helpful as Mitchell and Martin was the Tigers’ normal defensive security blanket.
Although Ole Miss shot 50 percent (14 of 28) in the second half, the Rebels finished the game hitting only 40 percent (24 of 60). If not for Curtis’ second-half resurrection (11 points on 5-of-8 shooting) and Sanders’ brief eight-point outburst, the Rebels may not have had enough firepower to hang around.
LSU also overcame Curtis’ 12 rebounds to beat Ole Miss 35-32.
“We try to defend every game,” Martin said. “Our defense has been pretty good and we just buckled down. In crunch time, you have to bow up and just guard your man.”

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