Mississippi State comes up big at the line, beats LSU 73-67
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) A rivalry was renewed on Saturday as old SEC West foes, LSU and Mississippi State, clashed in a battle.
The Bulldogs used a late second-half surge, hitting 13 of their 14 free throws down the stretch, to pull off a 73-67 victory over LSU.
Fred Thomas scored 18 points, including 7 of 7 shooting from the line, as Mississippi State hit 11 of its first 21 free throws but finished 23 of 35.
''Obviously, that's a great win for our guys and the program,'' MSU coach Rick Ray said. ''There's no question in my mind that LSU is a NCAA tournament team and they have some guys that are going to be playing in the NBA. I think they're probably the second most talented team in the SEC.''
The Bulldogs and Tigers both had their struggles in the first half as LSU managed just 29 percent shooting but held a 27-17 advantage on the boards to stay within striking distance of MSU, trailing 30-27.
''The first half, there were several things that hurt us,'' Ray said. ''The offensive rebounds, they killed us on the boards so we had to address that. I thought if we fixed those things in the second half, we'd have a chance to win the ball game.''
LSU scored the first six points of the second half to take a 34-31 lead and by the 10 minute mark, the two teams were knotted at 47.
After LSU took a three-point lead with over five minutes remaining, the Bulldogs began to get a lift from Roquez Johnson who scored six quick points to flip the game over to MSU at 53-50. The Bulldogs wouldn't relinquish the lead.
''The Auburn game and Vanderbilt game, we had success down the stretch but the last two games we struggled to finish,'' point guard I.J. Ready said. ''We really wanted to put that behind us and when the second half came around, we said we had 20 minutes to give it all we got.''
Craig Sword had 14 points for Mississippi State (10-11, 3-5 SEC), and Gavin Ware and Ready added 12 apiece. Ware and Johnson each grabbed 10 rebounds.
Thomas became the key down the stretch for MSU, hitting all seven of his free throws and making some big shots in transition to spark to Bulldogs.
Thomas scored just nine points combined in the last two losses.
''I thought Fred Thomas gave us some life in the second half,'' Ray said. ''There was nothing I said at halftime, there was nothing I did differently. I didn't give him a Vince Lombardi speech. Fred practices well all the time.''
Jordan Mickey, a sophomore, had 25 points and a career-high 20 rebounds for LSU (16-5, 5-3). Keith Hornsby added 15 points and Josh Gray 13.
''Jordan Mickey affects the game on both ends of the court,'' Ray said. ''Defensively he's a rim protector trying to block shots. On the other end, we've got to keep him off the glass and we didn't do a good job of that, obviously. That happens when your defense breaks down.''
Mississippi State: faces Tennessee on Tuesday.
LSU: hosts Auburn on Thursday.