The LSU Tigers just can’t stop playing very close games. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, like last season, LSU keeps pulling these close games out of the fire.
By Matt Zemek
The Tigers under Will Wade are continuing to develop a reputation for making the clutch basket and fine-tuning their defense in the final minutes of a game to swipe a victory from the opposition. The Tigers escaped against Mississippi State last Saturday, and they got out of Dodge with a win over the Texas A&M Aggies in overtime on Tuesday, coming back from a 77-71 deficit in the final two and a half minutes of regulation. LSU forced the extra period and then outlasted A&M to remain perfect in the SEC at 4-0. Now the Tigers go to Oxford to face an Ole Miss team which is 0-3 in the SEC and a far cry from last year’s team, which went to the NCAA Tournament. Let’s check in on the Tigers and see what they need to focus on against the Rebels:
1 – Lock down
Ole Miss is not a good offensive team. The Rebels have scored more than 55 points in only one of their last four games. This is a team without the inside-outside balance of last year’s group under head coach Kermit Davis. Breein Tyree is by far Ole Miss’s best offensive player. He is a gifted scorer who was the main engine of the team’s offense in the NCAA Tournament run last year. However, he is isolated and doesn’t have a lot of help on this year’s team. Ole Miss lacks the balance and the high-end scoring threats at various positions on the floor to spread out defenses and ensure that Tyree can operate one-on-one against his primary defender.
LSU allowed 47 points to Texas A&M in the second half of Tuesday night’s game. The Tigers did, however, clamp down in the final few minutes of regulation to force overtime. The Tigers have shown they can defend at a really high level in short bursts. Can they turn a short burst into a full game? If they can, this road trip might not be the dramatic high-wire act we often see from LSU basketball. There won’t be a need to win the game in the final minute because the game will have been won much earlier.
2 – Win the first half
It is true that LSU stepped off the gas pedal against Texas A&M and lost focus in the second half of that game, but here against Ole Miss, a good start seems more important to emphasize than a good finish. This doesn’t mean finishing strong is overrated – not when it is precisely what has enabled LSU to go 4-0 in the SEC. The point of emphasis is that LSU is going to get burned by a slow start at some point down the line. Moreover, with Ole Miss being desperate for an SEC win, the Rebels are likely to start this game with great energy. If LSU matches that energy, the Tigers’ clear talent advantage should take over. If LSU starts slowly, Ole Miss could gain confidence which carries through the rest of the evening in Oxford.
3 – Retain balance
LSU regularly has a different hero emerge in SEC action. Arkansas, Mississippi State, A&M, the key figures always change. This isn’t a story in which one person is keeping the ship afloat. Everyone is contributing, and everyone is managing to make a difference late in close games. Not every team has this capacity. Opponents don’t know where LSU will attack in crunch time. The Tigers need to retain this special ability; if they do, it will give them another excellent SEC season.