LSU’s early surge falls flat in defeat at Missouri

Missouri's Alex Oriakhi, top, dunks over LSU's Andrew Del Piero, left, and Johnny O'Bryant during the first half Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Missouri's Alex Oriakhi, top, dunks over LSU's Andrew Del Piero, left, and Johnny O'Bryant during the first half Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

COLUMBIA, Mo. — LSU put a scare into the Mizzou Arena crowd early in Saturday’s game.

Missouri fans have seen their Tigers win every home game this season, and they have just two home losses in the past three seasons. But halfway through the first half, the scoreboard showed those other Tigers with a 13-point lead.

LSU burst out to a fast start thanks to six 3-pointers, including three from sophomore guard Anthony Hickey. But after that stretch, Missouri made some defensive adjustments and used the rest of the first half to claw back and take the lead. In the second half, it pulled away for an 89-76 win.

“I think we did a good job of coming out and throwing the first punch and kind of letting them know that we were here to win the ballgame,” LSU senior Charles Carmouche said. “But it’s a 40-minute game. You can’t just play for the first half or the first couple of minutes. I think we kind of took our foot off the gas.”

Just like in the first 10 minutes, LSU (17-10, 8-8 Southeastern Conference) relied heavily on the 3-pointer to score for the rest of the game. LSU matched a season high with 12 3-pointers and hit 3s on three consecutive possessions in each half.

The trouble came when LSU went through stretches of missed shots and couldn’t find other ways to score. Despite 18 points from sophomore Johnny O’Bryant, LSU was outscored 52-24 in the paint.

LSU coach Johnny Jones credited Missouri seniors Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi with dominating the paint. Bowers missed Missouri’s January loss in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center with a knee injury, but he had a game-high 23 points Saturday. Oriakhi added 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting and helped Bowers bully LSU on defense.

“Their size and strength is good enough to try and push you off the block and make it extremely tough to get angles,” Jones said.

Bowers and Oriakhi also gave LSU fits on the glass. Both had 10 rebounds, and Missouri (21-8, 10-6) had 24 second-chance points.

LSU’s troubles inside overshadowed big scoring numbers from its guards. Hickey led the way with 22 points, including six 3-pointers. Carmouche made five 3s and scored 21 points, making him the first LSU player since 2009 to score 20-plus points in three straight games.

Jones said Carmouche’s success has to do with more than just being healthy.

“It’s about chemistry,” he said. “The team is continuing to grow, and I think he’s found his niche and what he’s capable of doing.”

LSU is tied with Georgia for eighth in the SEC. With only two regular-season games remaining, LSU is safe from finishing in the bottom four and having to play in the conference tournament’s opening round. It’s still possible — although Saturday’s loss makes it unlikely — that LSU could finish in the top four and get a double bye into the quarterfinals.

Two games separate six teams between fourth and ninth place, so seeding will be the focus over the next week.

“That’s what we play for this time of year,” Jones said. “Each game is important ... and we keep a close eye on it and want to make sure we’re in the best possible position going in there to give ourselves a chance.”