BATON ROUGE, La. — Missouri didn’t back down Tuesday against LSU at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, but it didn’t play well enough — especially on defense — to win either.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
In its last game, Missouri allowed only 17 points in the second half against Alabama, but LSU scored at least 38 points in each half en route to a 77-71 victory.
“I thought we were slow reacting a little bit and we were playing catch up (defensively),” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “We had moments, but it wasn’t obviously one of our better (games) defensively.”
LSU outshot and outrebounded Missouri, but not by wide margins. Missouri also went to the free-throw line less than its opponents for only the fourth time all season.
Still, the biggest difference-maker was that LSU, 12-5 and 3-2 in the SEC, avoided empty possessions down the stretch, while Missouri made two crucial turnovers.
“We just couldn’t get the stops when we needed,” said junior Jabari Brown, who scored a career-high 28 points in defeat. “We got some stops for a while, but down the stretch they were able to find a way to get a bucket.”
Brown, who made five of six three-pointers, staked Missouri, 14-4 and 2-3 SEC, to a one-point lead when he drilled a three-pointer coming out of a timeout with 3:41 remaining.
It was Missouri’s last field goal before another Brown three-pointer with 18 seconds remaining and, in between, LSU took control.
Freshman Jordan Mickey — who had five of LSU’s nine blocked shots and finished with a double-double, 14 points and 13 rebounds — put LSU back in front with a couple of free throws and then added a layup off an offensive rebound.
Trailing by three, Missouri senior Tony Criswell turned the ball over at the left elbow trying to drive the lane and LSU senior Shavon Coleman, who scored a team-high 19, made it hurt with another LSU layup at the other end.
Finally, senior Johnny O’Bryant, who chipped in 16 points and six rebounds, bumped LSU’s lead to 72-66 when he threw in a bucket while being dragged to the floor by Criswell with 46 seconds left.
From there, junior Anthony Hickey iced the game at the free-throw line.
“We competed tonight,” Haith said. “You can’t take anything away from our guys’ competitive spirit tonight. You can’t. LSU’s a good ballclub and they were ready to play … (but) I’m very pleased and encouraged by how hard our guys competed.”
Before the game, Missouri said it wouldn’t shy away from LSU’s shot-swatters in the paint despite the fact that coach Johnny Jones’ squad averaged 6.3 blocked shots per game, which ranks 16th in the nation.
“We weren’t going to shy away,” Haith said. “You’ve got to be aggressive. You can’t be soft against a team because they block shots. I thought we were in attack mode.”
Unfortunately, too often Missouri’s shots were blocked or its interior players failed to finish. Plus, free throws were hard to come by, especially in the first half when Missouri went to the line a season-low one time.
“They timed the shots well and made plays on the ball,” said Clarkson, who finished with 19 points and four steals. “I feel like we did a good job attacking them all game. In the second half, I think they just did a better job defensively.”
Brown, Clarkson and senior Earnest Ross, who had a double-double with 16 points and 11 boards, combined for all but eight of Missouri’s points The rest of the team shot four for 21 collectively.
Missouri has alternated wins and losses in each of its last six games after a 12-1 start.
“This is happening too many times,” Clarkson said. “It’s disappointing for real.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.