LSU men to travel to face Miss. State

LSU's Charles Carmouche (0) and Andre Stringer, right, embrace in the closing moments of their 73-70 win over Missouri in an NCAA college basketball game  at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig) Show caption
LSU's Charles Carmouche (0) and Andre Stringer, right, embrace in the closing moments of their 73-70 win over Missouri in an NCAA college basketball game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Johnny O’Bryant III scratched his temple.

Anthony Hickey’s hands fidgeted.

Andre Stringer scanned a freshly printed stat sheet lying on the table.

No grins. Zero chuckles and whispered wise-cracks.

Thirty minutes after upsetting No. 17 Missouri, LSU’s body language betrayed little joy in toppling a ranked foe. The Tigers (11-7, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) insist their was pleasure expressed, but it came in the closed confines of their locker room. And it muted by the reality one victory can’t lift them from a five-way tie at bottom of the SEC standings.

“We can’t forget that we have a long way to go,” Stringer said Thursday. “Obviously, our season has been a little good and somewhat bad. We can’t be too satisfied with ourselves.”

No, they can’t.

There’s still a nagging matter of a seven-game road losing streak in need of resolution and a meeting with woeful Mississippi State (7-12, 2-5) at 4:30 p.m. today at Humprehy Coliseum against the Bulldogs, who are losers of five-consecutive and last in seven statistical categories.

Opportunities to end the skid, stretching back to a 24-point drubbing at Ole Miss on Feb. 24, 2012, have been ample recently, too. At Georgia, LSU was locked in a 54-54 tie with four minutes left, only to see Georgia pop off a five-consecutive points to get clearance in a 68-57 victory. A week ago, swingman Shavon Coleman had an chance at game-tying 3-pointer with seven seconds to play against Kentucky, but missed in a 75-70 defeat.

On Thursday, LSU coach Johnny Jones said notching a victory away from the Peter Maravich Assembly Center is the logical next step as the Tigers try recover from an 0-4 SEC start.

“It’s part of our growth, and I think it’d be great for us to have some success on the road,” Jones said. “As we continue to progress through this season, in terms of taking steps, we’re hopeful Saturday can be that next step for us.”

Yet ending a ignominious streak pales next to the opportunity afforded by the schedule to creep back to .500 in the SEC over the next two weeks. Or a second chance considering the first two weeks of the SEC slate presented four games against opponents with a combined 14-14 record, and Florida owning seven of those victories.

Aside from Alabama, LSU faces Mississippi State twice, Vanderbilt and South Carolina, a group with a winning percentage of .286, and a workable route back toward the muddled middle of the SEC standings.

“Our mindset is there aren’t many more we can afford to lose,” Stringer said. “You have to want each win as they come up and can’t spend a lot of time thinking about the bigger picture. If we can continue with that focus, continue to study the game then we’ll be fine.”

And they draw a Mississippi State program mired in a painful transition under first-year coach Rick Ray, with injuries depleting an already thin roster to only seven scholarship players. Despite a 2-0 start, the Bulldogs have been walloped by an average of 22.6 points during their losing streak, but lost 55-49 in overtime Wednesday to Texas A&M.

As of Thursday, State is last in scoring (56.3 points per game), points allowed (70.7), scoring margin (minus-14.4 ppg), field-goal percentage (.389), field-goal defense (.464), rebound margin (minus-8.9) and assists (9.4 per game). Leading scoring Craig Sword’s 11.3 points per game is tied for No. 24 in the SEC, while freshman forward Gavin Ware is 14th in rebounding at 5.6 per game.

Granted, LSU isn’t privy to the data until handed slips of paper on the eve of the game, and predictably LSU doesn’t betray its sentiments about whether State can help them end road woes.

“You’ve got to have a different mind set and approach when you go on the road, and we’re still trying to get that right,” Carmouche said. “It’s still basketball, though, and something you do everyday.”

Right now, the topic doesn’t seem particularly distracting in the LSU locker room, either.

“The only way we address it is to not let the fans involved, anything outside of the court, we don’t get too wrapped up in,” Stringer said.

For his part, Jones said any streak doesn’t tinge the game with a sense of urgency, which should be a continual mental state during the grind of conference play.

“Anytime that you put yourself in a situation playing against any opponent in our league any given night, you have to make sure that you’re trying to be at your best,” Jones said. “We’re obviously out there trying to compete to see if we can string a couple of wins in a row together as well.”