By The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Now with his third college team, LSU guard Charles Carmouche is hoping to finish out his final year of eligibility with a flourish.
All he has to do is keep shooting the way he did against Mississippi State on Saturday.
Carmouche hit five 3-pointers on his way to a season-high 21 points, and the Tigers won for the fifth time in six games while handing Mississippi State its 10th straight loss, 80-68.
“I’m always confident. I just had a great shooting night,” said Carmouche, who started his college career in 2008 at the University of New Orleans, then transferred to Memphis in 2010 when UNO was considering dropping to a lower division. “You’re going to have those nights where you feel like the rim is as big as ever. I thought tonight we just did a good job of knocking down shots.”
Carmouche graduated from Memphis last year and received a medical red shirt for his senior season. That allowed first-year LSU coach Johnny Jones, who’d tried to recruit Carmouche to North Texas in 2010, to bring the New Orleans native to Baton Rouge for one more season.
“He’s been known to be a shooter,” Jones said. “(He has) a tremendous ability to stretch the defense because he’s great from around the 3-point line. I think he’s really helped us.”
Carmouche was one of five players to score in double digits for the Tigers (15-8, 6-6 Southeastern Conference), who shot 54.5 percent (30 of 55) and led by as many as 20 points several times in the second half.
Andrew Del Piero scored a career-high 13 points, while Anthony Hickey, Johnny O’Bryant III and Andre Stringer each scored 10. O’Bryant also grabbed 11 rebounds.
Freshman guard Craig Sword scored a season-high 24 points for the Bulldogs (7-17, 2-10).
“It really doesn’t matter when you don’t get the win,” Sword said. “They had a big lead and we didn’t try to fight back. … We just need to play hard. We haven’t been playing hard lately.”
Colin Borchert added 11 points and Gavin Ware 10 for Mississippi State, which shot 46.4 percent (26 of 56) but were hurt by 4-of-17 shooting from 3-point range. Colin Borchert added 11 points and Gavin Ware 10.
The Bulldogs, who never led, outscored LSU inside, 34-24, but the Tigers shot 12 of 24 from 3-point range.
With Mississippi State using a double-team to slow down O’Bryant, who had 30 points in LSU’s win at South Carolina on Thursday night, Carmouche kept getting open on the right wing and shooting decisively when the ball came to him.
Asked whether the right corner was his spot, Carmouche said, “If there’s going to be shooting nights like that, I’ll stay there the rest of the season.”
LSU also outrebounded Mississippi State 36-24.
“I just didn’t think we fought enough for those loose balls and rebounds and giving ourselves more possessions,” Bulldogs coach Rick Ray said. “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.”
After climbing back to .500 from a 0-4 start in the SEC, the Tigers’ confidence is surging heading into their final six league games. Of LSU’s six losses in the conference, three have been by five or fewer points.
“We’re more experienced. You got a chance to figure out how this league is,” Carmouchce said. “In the beginning, we played some tough games where we were close and we feel like we should have won. … I’ve said this since the beginning: I’d rather us lose early on than later, and I think right now is a perfect time for us to just come together and make our run.”
Jones credited his team for “buying in” to the new system he installed.
“We had a chance, if we wanted to, starting out 0-4 (in the league), to hit the panic button,” Jones said. “We never did that.”
Stringer had all 10 of his points in the opening half and O’Bryant made his first four shots for eight points in the first 10 minutes, but the Bulldogs were able to stay right with the Tigers for most of the period. The game was tied three times, the last when time at 25 on Ware’s layup with 6:22 left.
The Tigers then took the lead for good with consecutive baskets on Carmouche’s mid-range jumper and Del Piero’s basket inside, which turned out to be the beginning of a 16-3 run to close out the period.
Jalen Courtney added a transition layup on a heady feed from Malik Morgan during the spurt, Stringer hit a transition jumper from the left wing and Hickey hit a 3 that rolled around the rim before going down, putting the Tigers ahead 38-26 and prompting Mississippi State to call timeout.
Ware’s dunk briefly interrupted the surge, but Stringer responded with yet another 3 that rolled around and in, putting LSU up 41-28 at halftime.