Mizzou can't spoil LSU block party

2014-01-21T21:55:00Z 2014-02-04T20:18:00Z Mizzou can't spoil LSU block partyBy Dave Matter dmatter@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8508 stltoday.com

BATON ROUGE, La. • Just outside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Louisiana State’s Mike the Tiger guards the area in his lavish habitat, one fit for a pampered 500-pound live mascot. An hour before LSU tipped off against Missouri Tuesday night, the eight-year-old tiger scampered around his yard and let out the occasional roar as onlookers snapped photos and shot videos.

On the court, LSU had its own protection plan for its visitors from the north.

The Tigers blocked nine shots and controlled the paint when it mattered most in a 77-71 victory over Mizzou, led by freshman Jordan Mickey, who lived up to his billing as the SEC’s top shot-blocker. He swatted away five shots to go along with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

A season-long shortcoming of Frank Haith’s Tigers (14-4, 2-3 SEC) resurfaced here in the swamplands: Mizzou struggles to finish at the rim. This time, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

“We weren’t going to shy away,” Haith said. “You’ve got to be aggressive. You can’t be soft against a team because they block shots. I thought we were in attack mode.”

Especially early. Against an LSU front line considered the biggest and most talented in the SEC, Mizzou outscored the home Tigers 18-10 in the paint in the first half despite missing 6 of 13 layups or dunk attempts. But a Mizzou team that relies on scoring from the free throw line only drew four fouls in the half and shot just one free throw — a statistic Haith brought up multiple times after the game.

“That was a season-low for us in a half,” he said.

“I feel like we got to the rim a lot,” said Mizzou guard Jabari Brown, who scored a career-high with 28 points. “We didn’t always get the call, but that’s part of the game. It’s going to be like that sometimes, I guess.”

The Tigers got to the line more often in the second half — they shot 10 of 15 from the stripe — but couldn’t convert enough scoring chances down the stretch or find offense outside of its triple scoring threat. Brown, Jordan Clarkson (19 points) and Earnest Ross (16 points) scored all but eight of Mizzou’s points as five other teammates combined to shoot just 4 of 21.

“We’ve got confidence in our teammates,” Brown said. “We’re not just trying to pass it between us three. We want everyone to get involved and score the ball.”

The home team had its own issues early. Insisting on jacking 3-pointers from all parts of Louisiana, LSU (12-5, 3-2) seemed to forget it was allowed to let dynamic scoring forwards Johnny O’Bryant and Mickey touch the ball early in the first half as the Tigers consistently launched from deep against Mizzou’s zone defense. Of LSU’s first 25 shots, 17 came from behind the 3-point arc.

That strategy changed in the second half as LSU settled for fewer quick 3s and let O’Bryant outmuscle Mizzou for points inside.

Brown put Mizzou ahead 65-64 on a 3-pointer with 3:39 left, but on consecutive chances, Tim Quarterman blocked a Clarkson drive and Tony Criswell fumbled the ball in the lane, setting up Coleman for a transition dunk. O’Bryant powered through the lane for a layup on LSU’s next possession, good for a six-point lead with 46 seconds left. O’Bryant finished with 16 points, to go along with 19 from Shavon Coleman and 12 from guard Andre Stringer. All but two of LSU’s 13 field goals in the second half came at the rim.

“I thought we did a much better job of being aggressive at the basket,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said, “which allowed us to get to the free throw line and some high percentage scores.”

Brown kept Mizzou’s hopes alive on a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to shave the lead to 74-71, but the Tigers could never get closer as LSU iced the game from the foul line. With his third straight game with 22 points or more, Brown scored his career-high on just 15 shots and finished 5 of 6 from 3-point range. That came as no consolation to Brown.

“I’m not really thinking about that part,” he said. “I’m thinking about how we had a tough loss.”

After playing three games in six days, the Tigers don’t return to the court until Saturday’s 3 p.m. home game against South Carolina. Then comes the season’s most grueling stretch: In a seven-day span Mizzou plays at Arkansas, at home against Kentucky and at Florida.

Coming home with a few Tiger claw marks — Brown iced a bruise under his left eye after the game — Mizzou can only look up from the hole it’s starting to dig.

“It’s going to turn for us,” Haith said. “The ball’s going to bounce our way, as long as we stay positive, keep working, keep coaching these guys. It’s a long season.”

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