Punchless Tigers foiled in Starkville

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – The last time LSU got off to such a bad start in SEC play, it was not uncommon for a team to simply hold the ball against a superior opponent.
The advent of the shot clock ended that practice, but Tigers coach Trent Johnson tried his best to turn back the clock at Humphrey Coliseum on Saturday. Despite the slow-down tactic, Mississippi State earned a crucial 67-51 victory in front of 7,247.
The Bulldogs (16-5, 4-2 SEC) snapped a two-game losing skid in knocking off the defending league champs, who scored just 38 points in Wednesday’s loss to Alabama and are the SEC’s lowest-scoring team this season.
The Tigers (9-12, 0-7) haven’t been this dreadful in SEC play since starting 0-10 during the 1965-66 season. MSU, which hits the road twice this week, will take the win anyway.
“The only thing that kept us in it was our ability to defend,” said MSU coach Rick Stansbury, who picked up his 100th career SEC victory.
The shooting woes that have plagued the Bulldogs of late continued in the first half, when they hit just 33.3 percent from the field and 3 of 13 from 3-point range. But they shot 50 percent in the second half and made 4 of 9 from downtown.
MSU found other ways to score and had four players in double figures, led by Ravern Johnson’s 15 points. LSU was within 29-21 early in the second half when State reeled off eight consecutive points and the lead never dipped below 10 the rest of the way. Guard Phil Turner had a 4-point play during the 8-0 run.
Turner finished with 12 points, as did Barry Stewart. Jarvis Varnado scored 10 of his 11 points in the second half, and he also had 10 rebounds and four blocks.
“I think we’ve been playing good defense, but we ain’t been playing 40 minutes of good defense with the two losses on the road,” Varnado said. “Tonight we defended well, and we got out in transition and scored.”
The Tigers at least surpassed the 38-point mark, on a Bo Spencer 3-pointer. He made three in a row in less than two minutes late in the second half, but the Tigers couldn’t mount a rally.
“For us to have a chance to compete, things have got to be in the 50s and the 60s, whether it’s on the road or whether it’s at home,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said.
The only double-figure scorer LSU had was 6-foot-7 senior Tasmin Mitchell, who notched a game-high 26 points. He made LSU’s first field goal of the game, at the 10-minute, 12-second mark, and scored the Tigers’ first eight points of the second half.
Mitchell shot 10 of 24 from the field and could not duplicate what Courtney Fortson did to the Bulldogs on Thursday, when the Arkansas point guard reeled off 33 second-half points to rally the Razorbacks to a 67-62 win.
With so few offensive weapons, LSU’s plan was to slow the tempo. That led to a couple of shot clock violations in the first half, but it kept the Tigers in the game. MSU led 23-15 at halftime.
State did a good job of not forcing the issue and getting into transition when it could. The Bulldogs scored 17 points off 12 LSU turnovers and had 14 second-chance points.
“We want to play our style of game, make teams adapt to us,” Stewart said. “I think we adjusted pretty good.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com.