LSU Tigers beat Mizzou Tigers for coach Johnny Jones’ signature win

LSU Tigers guard Anthony Hickey (1) dribbles the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated LSU 75-70. (Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports)

The LSU basketball team has developed quite the knack for being able to come from behind after facing large deficits. The squad has also been on the edge of numerous opportunities to win games in the closing seconds, only to fall short in the end. With Wednesday night’s surprising upset of 17th-ranked Missouri, however, LSU experienced a bit of a reversal of fortune on its way to head coach Johnny Jones’ signature victory.

In a 73-70 win over the visiting Tigers of Missouri (15-5, 4-3), it was LSU (11-7, 2-5) which uncharacteristically jumped out to a big lead, and then saw it suddenly erased in a stunningly short amount of time in the final moments. But the Bayou Bengals, who have lost close conference games in seemingly every way imaginable, found a way to survive Missouri’s closing onslaught, and emerged with their second SEC win in the last three games.

In a close loss at Kentucky over the weekend, LSU was saddled with the familiar burden of playing catch-up for the most of the contest. The Tigers chipped away, and battled valiantly in the waning minutes, but circumstances again unfolded, however, that prevented them from escaping Lexington with a victory.

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But things were not so on Wednesday night in Baton Rouge, as LSU guard Andre Stringer found a nice rhythm from beyond the three-point arc, while forward Johnny O’Bryant III and point guard Anthony Hickey carried the Tigers with a formidable inside-outside, two-man game.

The shortcomings of this team have become increasingly evident throughout the season, but LSU has discovered varying ways of circumventing its weaknesses in order to stay competitive. The Tigers have been in position to win every game except one, against arguably the nation’s top team in Florida.

For starters, LSU doesn’t enjoy the services of a go-to playmaker who can create a shot when needed. But they do employ a suffocating full court press, and the team’s ability to force steals in bunches nearly atones for their lack of a premier all-around scorer.

LSU also lacks an athletic big man who can take pressure off O’Bryant from the center position. As an alternative, however, they have Hickey, who is steadily developing a strong two-man game with O’Bryant. This forces defenses to play LSU more honestly inside, as Hickey has proven his ability to bury open three-pointers.

Looking ahead, LSU has another winnable game at Mississippi State (7-12) on Saturday. The Tigers will need to continue to put the game in the hands of Hickey and O’Bryant, while steadily fighting to offset their shortcomings.

After stubbornly refusing to bow out against Kentucky, and then roaring out to a blazing start in a win over a ranked Missouri team, LSU could very well be ready to make a run. Instead of being continually hindered by what they don’t have, these Tigers are becoming increasingly adept at maximizing what they do have. And as the stretch run of the conference schedule approaches, that’s certainly not a bad identity to be working with.

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