BATON ROUGE - The LSU men's basketball team won its second straight game to finally get back to .500 for the first time this season in league play after a wire-to-wire 80-68 win over Mississippi State Saturday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
LSU is now 15-8 and 6-6 in the league after starting 0-4 in league play as LSU sweeps State this year and wins for the third straight time over the Bulldogs. Mississippi State is now 7-17 and 2-10.
The Tigers, who led by as much as 20 points on a couple of occasions in the second half, has now won the first two legs of this most difficult Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday swing that concludes Tuesday night at Tennessee.
Johnny O'Bryant III moved into solo possession of the league double double total with 11 and continued to make his case for All-SEC honors with 10 points and 11 rebounds. The sophomore forward flirted with the first triple double in over 20 years at LSU as he had eight assists. O'Bryant had just two turnovers in 36 minutes of play.
He was one of five Tigers in double figures as Andrew Del Piero finished with a career high 13 points, his second game this season in double figures. Also with 10 points was Anthony Hickey, who had six assists and two steals, while Andre Stringer had 10 as well.
But leading the Tigers was senior Charles Carmouche who hit 8-of-11 from the field, including a season best 5-of-8 from the three-point arc in scoring 21 points in 23 minutes.
Craig Sword had 25 points to lead Mississippi State, hitting 9-of-14 field goals and 7-of-10 free throws with four assists. Colin Borchert had 11 points and Gavin Ware had 10 points.
The Tigers won for the 17th straight time when shooting 50 percent or better in a game. LSU shot 54.5 percent for the night, making 30-of-55 and also 12-of-22 from the arc as LSU reached double figures in treys for the fourth time this season. LSU also had 24 assists in the game for the 30 baskets and turned the ball over just 10 times. Mississippi State only had nine turnovers, but LSU was able to get 17 points off those turnovers.
LSU out rebounded the Bulldogs, 36-24, who also shot a good percentage of 46.4 percent (26-56), including 53.8 percent in the second half.
The Tigers came out quickly and shooting well over 50 percent used a 6-0 run that featured a Stringer jumper, a bucket by Del Piero and an O'Bryant III lay in to build a 14-7 lead with 13:32 to go in the first half. LSU upped the margin to 19-12 three minutes later, but Mississippi State, much as it did in the first half in Starkville became the more aggressive team for a brief time.
State came back from seven down to tie the game at 23-23 on a layup by Roquez Johnson, a three by Fred Thomas and a jumper by Ware.
But the Tigers didn't give the lead to State, as LSU broke from a 25-25 tie to a 35-26 advantage with 2:30 to go in the first half as Del Piero with a couple of buckets, and Hickey with a three forced Mississippi State to take a second time out at 38-26 with 1:39 to play.
LSU closed the half up, 41-28, shooting 58.6 percent from the field (17-of-29) and 55.6 percent from the arc (5-of-9).
State came out strong at the start of the half getting a three-point play from Sword and then a layup by Thomas off an LSU turnover to immediately cut the Tiger lead to eight at 43-35. But that was as close as the Bulldogs, who fell for the 10th straight game.
The Tigers got a dunk and a layup from Del Piero, and three pointers from Hickey and Carmouche to expand the lead to 16 points, 53-37, with 15:58 to play in the game.
LSU, coming off an 18-point win on Thursday, tried to make it two straight big second halves opening the margin to 19, 57-38, at the 12:11 mark as Del Piero made a free throw to tie his career high of 10 points.
The margin went to 20 twice near the midway point of the second half the first on a Shavon Coleman trey and then a layup that made it 62-42 with 10:41 to play.
LSU also moved into double figures from the arc, the fourth time this year, LSU has had double figure treys. The Tigers with 6:21 to go hit the 70 point mark for the 14th time in the season.
HEAD COACH JOHNNY JONES
Opening statement ...
"We knew coming in that it would be a hard-fought battle for us. We knew that Mississippi State plays extremely well at their place, and we wound up being able to knock down a last second shot to get out. We knew that they would come in here today extremely focused, and I thought they did. I thought they played extremely hard, even coming off of a tough setback the other night. They've had three challenging games prior to playing us, and the same had happened prior to our last opportunity that we played them. I thought those guys played hard, but I have to say I thought our guys did an excellent job of really staying the course. I thought they shared the ball extremely well today, getting 24 assists, looking and creating opportunities for each other. One of the areas that was important to us was winning the war on the glass, and we were able to do that, out rebounding them. I thought we did a really good job in the first half in terms of low field-goal percentages. Second half, I thought they shot it better. We didn't defend as well as I would have liked for us to, but I'm pleased with our guys' effort and just the attitude throughout the game."
On sharing the basketball ...
"I think they're making good decisions. When you look at just Johnny's (O'Bryant) stat line, he had 10 (points) and 11 (rebounds). I think we get excited because was saw him get 30 (points) the other night at South Carolina, but this is a great stat line for him when he's got 10 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Only two turnovers means that he made great decisions. I thought they did a great job later in trying to send two people at him. He didn't force the action. He wound up going five-for-seven from the field. That's a tremendous percentage for him. So, we're pleased with that. When you look at the balance of our other guys, meaning when they made extra passes guys did an excellent job of executing in terms of making those baskets when the opportunity presented itself."
On knocking down shots early ...
"I've got to think that it really helps when we knock down some shots early on from the three-point line. I thought it became kind of contagious in a sense. Guys were open. The thing I was impressed with was they weren't just running to the line like we did at Mississippi State. We didn't do a great job of being poised. We had some open looks there. We took a lot of open ones. We didn't hit them. I thought they were able to feed off of that. That's what allowed them to get a lead against us with the turnovers also that we had there. Tonight, I thought, was a lot better. I thought we were more balanced. I thought guys got good looks, felt good about them, took their time and made shots."
On continuing to improve throughout the season ...
"I think it's just a part of the growth. I thought we played some really tight games early on and played extremely hard. We weren't able to finish in some of them. The guys have done a tremendous job of continuing to grow as a team and as individuals as well. It's just a part of connecting and the chemistry with the team that has allowed us to go on a little run like this. We had a chance, if we wanted to, starting out 0-4, to hit a panic button, but we never did that. What was important to us was our next practice and our next game in terms of improving. I think the guys have done both, improved in practice and been able to transfer their practices into the games. I think if you look at the play of Johnny (O'Bryant) early on and you talk about him and how he's playing now, I think that's a huge step for us. I think you can go down the line and look at other guys as well. With Stringer, some nights he's not shooting the ball, but he's defending well for us and creating opportunities. He's looked at as just a shooter for us. I think these guys are able to contribute in some other ways, and I think they know that now."
LSU PLAYER QUOTES
GUARD ANTHONY HICKEY
On the quick start at the beginning of the game...
"We played together. We came out from the jump. Johnny (O'Bryant III) had a bunch of assists. He was doing whatever he had to do to win and help the team. Our guards were just able to make shots."
On getting back at .500 in conference play...
"It is great it's in our hands but we can't settle for that. We have to get better everyday. I'm glad we are at .500 but we have some more games left. It is all about getting these wins."
On defending opposing guards...
"We get after it everyday in practice. We are able to guard each other and I think we have some pretty quick guards. We defend and we play hard. I think that defines our team. We are scrappy and we get after it. We are going to play hard for 40 minutes no matter what the result is. We are going to give it 110 percent."
On his successful shooting in the corner...
"Our offense is designed for me to be (in the corner). When (Mississippi State) went in their 1-3-1 half court zone trap, they trap high, and we get the ball in the middle when Anthony (Hickey) or Andre (Stringer) attacks they find me in the corner. I just let it go."
JOHNNY O"BRYANT III
On the team's success in the post...
"We are not the biggest team, but the past few games we've played much bigger. Andrew (Del Piero) has done well the past few games. I've done well. We just played much bigger."
MISSISSIPPI STATE HEAD COACH RICK RAY QUOTES
On what went wrong for Mississippi State tonight...
"We just weren't going to have success - they shot an unbelievable percentage from the three-point line, and our guys have a bad habit of closing out their shooters with their hands down. We need guys that can take away their shot and take away their vision. We haven't done that and we haven't built that habit up and that's my fault. I guess we have to do a better job at coaching to make sure our guys do that."
On the defensive effort by Mississippi State...
"Our on-ball defense, especially when middle penetration leaves all those open looks - they had 24 assists and I think 30 baskets. Just unbelievable stats as far as assist-to-basket ratio. We have some situations with loose balls and rebounds and things like that that were tipped and [LSU] always ended up getting the loose balls. I just didn't think we fought enough for those loose balls and rebounds and giving ourselves more possessions."
On what needs to be done to improve the team...
"We just continue to give their shooters a high percentage from the three-point line. And we ourselves need to make a higher percentage from the three-point line. So we've just got to do a better job of taking shots. We need to knock down our open shots - they're just not going in for us. I don't know if it's fatigue, but I'm worried about where we are mentally at this point because I'm not seeing that competitive spirit that we've played with in the past."
MISSISSIPPI STATE PLAYER QUOTES
Guard Craig Sword
On Mississippi State's performance...
"We just didn't come out strong at all. They had a big lead, and we didn't try to fight back."
On how they can improve...
"We just need to play hard. We haven't been playing hard lately. We've been on a losing streak, and we just haven't been playing hard."