By Paul Jones
STARKVILLE – Sitting at 0-11 in the SEC, LSU’s basketball struggles have been well-documented this season, a year after winning the league title.
Despite that record, MSU head coach Rick Stansbury is wary ahead of today’s game.
The Bulldogs (18-8, 6-5 in the SEC) face LSU in Baton Rouge for a 3 p.m. tipoff. And it’s a “scary” trip, according to Stansbury.
“They are a scary, dangerous team,” said Stansbury. “They’ve played a lot of people close at home and the only team that’s really beat them (bad) was Kentucky. With everybody else, it’s been a close game.”
Well, not exactly but his players should take their head coach’s lead.
The Tigers, 9-16 overall, also lost to Alabama at home by a total of 16 points. But Trent Johnson’s squad played the likes of Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee tough at home and lost those three games by a total of 19 points.
Last time out – and away from Baton Rouge – the Tigers pushed Vanderbilt to the limits before falling 77-69 to the nationally-ranked Commodores last Saturday.
Yes, it was the Tigers’ 11th straight SEC loss. But it was also the first time LSU was competitive on the road.
“They go to Vanderbilt and came out of that game, probably the first time in a long time, with some walk in their step,” added Stansbury. “They played Vanderbilt right to the wire. Under one minute to go, it’s a one-possession game.
“They were off all week and we’re catching them feeling as good about themselves as they have in a long time. It’s never easy anywhere on the road and it sure won’t be easy (at LSU) by any means. Forget their record.”
MSU’s first order of business will be to contain senior Tasmin Mitchell, who had 26 points in MSU’s 67-51 win in Starkville. Mitchell ranks third in the league in both scoring (17.3 points) and rebounding (9.6).
“He’s always a difficult matchup,” said Stansbury. “No matter who you put on him, he’s just a difficult person to handle.”
Similar to the Tigers’ winless ways in the SEC, MSU’s struggles on the road this year have also been noted. The Bulldogs won their league opener at Ole Miss but have dropped four straight road games within the conference – Arkansas, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Florida.
Signs of life
However, there was a bit of hope in those road setbacks.
“We went through a tough stretch on the road,” said senior guard Barry Stewart. “And we played at some good places. But we knew at the end of those games, they could have gone either way. At Arkansas and Alabama, we let it slip through our hands. We almost came back at Vandy and played them tight. We know what happened at Florida and we got dominated on the inside at Florida.
“But any one of those games could have gone either way. We just have to find that next notch to be able to win on the road.”
While LSU is feeling better about its’ latest defeat, the same can not be said about the Bulldogs. On Tuesday, MSU held seven-point advantage over Kentucky only to see the second-ranked Wildcats rally for an overtime victory. With the Bulldogs needing wins to help their fading NCAA tournament hopes, a near-win against Kentucky left a big sting.
“As long as we stick together we’ll be alright,” said Stewart. “We can’t let (the Kentucky loss) get us down. Now we have to go on the road and get one.”