The No. 13 Missouri Tigers will look to rebound Saturday when they host the LSU Tigers in a Southeastern Conference game in Columbia, Mo.
Missouri (7-2 overall, 1-2 in the SEC) collapsed in the second half of its 78-63 loss at Mississippi State on Tuesday. After leading by 14 points during the first half, Missouri allowed the Bulldogs to outscore them 51-24 in the final 20 minutes.
“We gotta get more toughness in certain areas, especially in the second half,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “When teams are making a run, we gotta get a little more grit to us. And they made enough plays, and we just couldn’t bounce back.”
LSU (7-2, 2-1) is coming off of a 94-92 overtime victory over Georgia at home Wednesday. LSU trailed the Bulldogs by 10 with 9:07 before rallying to force overtime and win.
“We need games like this,” LSU standout Ja’Vonte Smart told reporters afterward. “SEC games are hard. We have to find ways to figure things out and keep fighting. We are going to go back into the lab and keep working. I know our defense wasn’t the best, but I promise we are going to get it better.”
Whoever wins the LSU-Missouri game will strengthen its case for an NCAA Tournament berth. Missouri looked like a postseason team while running an efficient offense and playing tough defense in the first half at Mississippi State.
“I thought we had one of our better halves all season in the first half,” Martin said. “We were really moving the ball, sharing the ball, defending, protecting the lane, getting everything we wanted out of the ball screen actions.”
Missouri did little of that in the second half. Now, it hopes to regain that first-half form when it returns to Mizzou Arena.
Martin’s squad will need plenty of offense against LSU, which is averaging 86.8 points per game. Through Wednesday’s games, that was tied for12th-best in NCAA Division I.
LSU is led by Cameron Thomas, one of the nation’s top freshmen. He is averaging 24.8 points per game and knocking down 91.2 percent of his free throws.
Trendon Watford (17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds per game), Smart (15.3 ppg) and Darius Days (13.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg) provide plenty of support.
Where LSU can still improve is on the defensive end, where it finally clamped down late in the Georgia game.
“Our activity defensively was better, and our 19 steals and their 22 turnovers really bailed us out,” coach Will Wade said. “But we’ve got to be a little more consistent and we have to have that urgency from the start.”
Missouri’s offense has received a much-needed lift from center Jeremiah Tilmon, who scored 41 points and grabbed 17 rebounds over his last two games. But overall Missouri failed to control the lane against Mississippi State, which outrebounded the Tigers 37-22.
“You just gotta take pride in boxing guys out,” Martin said. “And it can’t just be Jeremiah. Other guys have to take pride in hitting bodies and blocking out.”
Point guard Xavier Pinson is averaging 14.8 points and 3.8 assists for Missouri. He posted 36 points and 12 assists collectively in his last two games.
But fellow guards Mark Smith (11.9 ppg) and Dru Smith (11.3 ppg) have struggled lately. Each has failed to score in double figures in three of their last four games.
–Field Level Media