Harris: LSU men getting there, but not quite yet

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Fifteen minutes after a three-point loss at Alabama, pinning down LSU’s self-assessment of its abilities away from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center is a stroll along the rhetorical spectrum.

First, there’s LSU coach Johnny Jones, a measured voice whose tone is tinged with optimism about a Tigers roster prone to bury itself in early deficits but also confounding resurrections when time melts under five minutes in the second half.

“It’s great that we can put ourselves in that position and be that close,” Jones said. “You’re playing in a tough environment like this, and it’s a great deal of credit to our kids.”

Twenty minutes later, though, forward Johnny O’Bryant III brought up an important fact: The Tigers would not have been in a chase position if not for allowing a closing 14-4 run to Alabama over the final six minutes of the first half — a stretch where LSU went 3:48 without a bucket and committed six turnovers.

“We’ve got to stop digging holes,” O’Bryant said. “In this conference, teams are too good to try to fight back from especially on the road. You’ve got to make a statement, and make a statement early.”

The kicker is both player and coach are right.

Such is the muddled and murky nature of LSU when it hits the road in the SEC.

Quantifying a squad’s fortitude is impractical, but a blunt instrument in comparing scoring margin helps a tad. In five conference home games, LSU has a minus-4.6 scoring margin, which ranks No. 6 in the SEC and is nearly identical to its minus-4.2 figure in five away tilts. Put simply, LSU’s perpetual state with less than five minutes to go is within a couple of possessions.

Those stats aren’t minted in sterling, but Jones’ team is a far cry from a few of its peers.

Sitting only a victory ahead of LSU in the standings, Arkansas is winless in five road games this season, dropped its games by an average of 14.6 points and its worse loss came by 21 points at South Carolina. That from a Razorbacks team beating foes by more than 16 points at Bud Walton Arena.

Irksome and annoying as the Tigers’ pattern appears to be, at least they’re able to transport a consistent level of effort and focus when walking into an opposing arena, at least they don’t have the Hogs flaky mentality.

“They just go into an environment and are unaffected by it,” Jones said.

“They’ve been able to do that all year long, and I can really applaud them for that, because they’re young and inexperienced in some areas.”

Short term returns reflected in this season’s record might not draw the desired, but there’s a good enough nucleus in sophomores Anthony Hickey and Johnny O’Bryant along with junior Andre Stringer to potentially bode well in the future.

With a top-10 recruiting class arriving this summer, immersion with this season’s holdovers could prove the proper concoction of talent, experience and mettle to generate more victories.

And strip statements of caveats and qualifiers, too.