LSU builds early lead to ease past Bulldogs

When Jarell Martin lifts off and snatches a lob from Anthony Hickey, every move LSU makes can appear so fluid.

The Tigers’ instincts and execution meld.

In these snippets, the inconsistencies dogging coach Johnny Jones’ group vanish abruptly.

All there is a Martin mashing an orb through a rim, and LSU delivering a 92-81 walloping against a struggling Mississippi State team Wednesday night.

Bludgeoning the Bulldogs (13-13, 3-10) in front of an announced crowd of 7,689 at the Pete Maravich Assembly also may have been the proper balm as LSU (16-9, 7-6) halted a two-game losing streak ahead of key trek to Kentucky on Saturday.

“We don’t need to look to far ahead,” guard Anthony Hickey said. “We just need to take it a step at a time.”

Spurred by breakouts nights from Martin and Jordan Mickey, the Tigers will savor a win in which they built an early 20-point lead against a stumbling Bulldogs squad.

Martin poured in a career-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting — his most-efficient outing on the season — and for the first time, he played free of nagging doubts.

“I just stayed patient and let the game to me,” said Martin, who scored 14 points after halftime.

“I didn’t try to force anything. My teammates found me when I was wide open, and I played aggressive.”

Mickey, meanwhile, added 19 points on an 11-of-12 night, while Shavon Coleman added 18 and Andre Stringer chipped in 14 off the bench.

Throttling State does little to freshen up a smudged and stained NCAA tournament résumé — one that might not even be on the bottom of the selection committee’s pile.

Jones insists the chatter doesn’t register among the Tigers.

“I’m not sure they worry about it so much,” Jones said. “I don’t think that’s a big concern for them. Our kids are very resilient and have done a great job in terms of bouncing back all year long.”

Add Wednesday to the pile of evidence.

The Tigers burst out of the blocks with a five-minute stretch in which they quickly built a 16-1 lead.

Five Mississippi State turnovers spurred the early run, capped off by a Mickey layup with 15:46 left until halftime.

State clanked nine of its first 10 shots and watched LSU’s front line pound them in the lane a 16-2 scoring edge.

With 11:49 left, point guard Tim Quarterman sidestepped a defender for a layup to make it a 24-4 lead.

“It was good for us to get off to that type of start,” Mickey said. “It reminds us that we’re capable of starting that way. It’s a good feeling and something we have to continue to do.”

State, staggering, managed to peel itself off the floor.

Bulldogs freshman point guard I.J. Ready popped off six consecutive points during a 14-2 run over five minutes — a span in which LSU committed five turnovers. The run finished with guard De’Runnya Wilson hitting a pair of free throws, bringing State within 26-20.

And there still are troubling hints LSU hasn’t gotten rid of all its irksome habits.

State shot 50 percent from the floor, outscored LSU 40-38 in the lane, and managed to generate 21 points off 16 turnovers by the Tigers.

“We’re not going to hold teams scoreless, but we have to make sure it’s tough for teams to score,” Jones said. “We don’t do that at a good enough rate right now for us to be excited about it.”

Meanwhile, Craig Sword, another big guard capable of gashing LSU’s zone, found ways to slither to the rim in scoring a career-high 33 points on 11-of-16 shooting.

“Their big guys set great screens, and he’s able to get off them and use his speed,” Hickey said. “We did a bad job executing on the defensive end and being in the right spots to help. That’s totally on our end and something we have to get better at.”

Trailing 42-31, State nobly tried to put the Tigers in a bind.

Sword reeled of five unanswered points, including a three-point play off a steal, to creep within 47-40 with 17:36 left.

Yet the rally lasted only 23 seconds.

State forward Colin Borchert got tangled up with Jordan Mickey in the lane, drawing his fourth foul of the night. But questioning the call netted him a technical and a seat for the night.

Andre Stringer and Mickey each hit a pair of free throws for an 11-point lead that the Bulldogs could never get closer than 10 points the rest of the way.

Savoring the outcome, however, won’t last longer than 24 hours.

“They quickly have to turn their attention to Lexington,” Jones said. “You have to start preparing yourself tonight for will take place on Saturday.”

Inside Rupp Arena, LSU will try to carry out a resurrection against a Kentucky squad they manhandled much in the same way as State in Baton Rouge.

Ending a five-game road skid away from the PMAC would be nice, but knocking off the No. 13 team in the RPI would surely help breathe a little life into LSU’s aspirations for March.

Yet Jones doesn’t want to “beat the kids over the head with” their road woes, he said.

For a night, at least, the Tigers removed the clutter from their psyche — a job they’d like to only carry out once.

“We can’t,” Hickey said, “worry about everything else.”