Sunday, February 4, 2007

Defensive Lapse Leaves Tigers Short Again

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Offensive problems, what offensive problems?
The LSU basketball team suddenly seems to have solved the shooting and execution flaws that were so troublesome just a week ago.
But while the Tigers have plugged a few holes in the dam, their once promising season is still taking on water.
Saturday against Mississippi State, LSU shot well, beat the Bulldogs on the backboards and reduced the damaging scoring lulls to only a few.
What the Tigers couldn’t figure out was a way to cool off State’s scorching shooting touch from long distance as the Bulldogs zapped LSU with a late surge to snatch an 85-78 triumph at Humphrey Coliseum.
This loss — LSU’s fifth in a row and one that drops the Tigers (13-9, 2-6 SEC) into last place in the Western Division — didn’t come in the final seconds or slip away in the last few minutes.
Nope, the latest setback was more like a slow, painful death as State (12-9, 3-5) hammered away at the LSU defense from 3-point range until the Tigers finally crumbled.
The Bulldogs connected on 13 3-pointers, a season-high and one short of the school record. It was the most 3s allowed by LSU since early last season when West Virginia rifled in 15 on 45 attempts.
Charles Rhodes was the only State player taller than 6-foot-4 who played more than eight minutes Saturday. With four guards and Rhodes usually on the floor together, the Bulldogs didn’t bother to look for scoring inside unless they got something easy in transition.
Instead, the smaller-but-quicker MSU lineup carved LSU’s defense up one possession after another until a shooter was left open — usually wide-open — for a 3-point look.
Reginald Delk spearheaded the charge, hitting 5-of-6 bombs from outside the arc, while his twin brother Richard Delk went 3-for-5.
“We’re finding ways to hurt ourselves,” Garrett Temple said. “After not being able to score for a few games, now we’re not guarding like we can.
“It was not being focused on who we were guarding. We had four-men guarding small players and they’re not used to it. We have to communicate better and guard the 3-point line better than that.”
Despite the inability to slow the Bulldogs down from the perimeter, LSU managed to go blow-for-blow with State in a second half that featured 13 lead changes. The last Tigers lead was 62-61 on Glen Davis slam dunk with 9:18 left in the game.
LSU had a chance to nudge the lead, but Terry Martin had a 3-pointer blocked and Tasmin Mitchell’s point-blank bank shot on an inbound pass got rejected by Jamont Gordon, allowing the shot clock to expire for a turnover.
Gordon turned in a monster day with 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks. His gutsy drive through the lane for a bank shot gave State the lead 63-62 and ignited a decisive 14-4 siege over the ensuing 6:12.
Rhodes scored a fast-break layup, Reginald Delk converted a deflating four-point play and then drove the baseline for a short bank shot that ballooned the Bulldogs lead to 71-64 in rapid-fire fashion.
“When they hit a basket and we’re trying to come back we can’t let it break out spirits,” LSU power forward Glen Davis said. “We have to keep fighting, keep coming, keep pushing.”
The problem Saturday was the Bulldogs always seemed to have an answer when the Tigers pushed back, and it usually came from outside the 3-point arc when State’s quick guards lured an LSU defender outside and then drove to the basket.
After losing two of their last three home games to Florida and South Carolina with final-minute meltdowns, the Bulldogs made sure they held the upper hand in crunch time.
“Even though we’ve lost some games, we haven’t panicked,” said MSU coach Rick Stansbury, whose team snapped a four-game losing streak to LSU. “It’s not about the last play. It’s about making plays throughout the game somewhere, where the last play is not magnified.”
LSU shot an SEC season-best 53.4 percent (31 of 58) from the floor, anchored by a sizzling first-half effort of 61.5 percent (16 of 26). The Tigers also rolled up their highest scoring total in league play this season and out-rebounded State 36-26.
Offensively, LSU got the kind of its offensive production and balance it has lacked most of the last three weeks. Davis notched 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his 41st career double-double, Temple shook out his recent doldrums with 16 points and five assists, Terry Martin accounted for 14 points and Tasmin Mitchell added 11.
With the exception of a season-high 19 turnovers, the Tigers did enough things well to win, but still couldn’t dig up a way to prevail.
“We’ve been having a problem offensively, but we seem to have corrected that the last couple of games,” LSU coach John Brady said. “Now it’s time to work on the other end.

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