STARKVILLE, Miss. — Apparently, nothing is going to come easy for the LSU men’s basketball team this season.
After having six of its first seven Southeastern Conference games decided by an average of 4.5 points, Saturday’s matchup with Mississippi State, which was picked to finish last in the 14-team league, was another reminder of how things can go so wrong so fast — regardless of the opponent.
It didn’t help that Jordan Mickey was playing through a foot injury, Jarell Martin was playing through foul trouble, Tim Quarterman was playing sick and Jalyn Patterson wasn’t playing at all because of a concussion.
Still, LSU had an opportunity to notch a fourth consecutive SEC road win in the final four minutes until an untimely series of missed shots, turnovers and fouls let Mississippi State take control late and go on to a 73-67 victory.
The game turned when LSU, which shot just 29.4 percent from the field in the first half, was clinging to a one-point lead with 3:35 to play after settling down and going 12-of-26 from the field to that point in the second period.
Slipping inside along the baseline, Quarterman, who initially appeared to be going in for a dunk, tossed up a short jumper that bounced off the rim.
Mississippi State got the rebound and started a fast break that resulted in a dunk of its own 9 seconds later by Roquez Johnson, giving the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish.
The dunk ignited a closing 19-10 run that ended LSU’s three-game winning streak and dropped the Tigers out of a second-place tie in the conference standings.
Starting with Quarterman’s miss, LSU was 1-of-5 from the field in the next three minutes. In that time, the Tigers had two turnovers and committed a foul that helped the Bulldogs build what turned out to be an insurmountable six-point lead with 36 seconds remaining.
That critical stretch was typical of LSU’s performance much of the day.
Even though the Tigers went into the game tied for second in the SEC in field-goal accuracy at 45.9 percent, only Mickey, who was 11-of-18 from the floor, was immune to the shooting woes.
One of the problems was that Martin, the team’s scoring leader at 16.7 points per game, was limited to four field-goal attempts. Martin, who was averaging 12.0 shots per game, made one and added two free throws for a season-low four points.
“I thought he got himself in position, but they did a good job of crowding the lane and trying to make sure they forced everything on the outside,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said of State’s defensive strategy, which included a pesky 2-3 zone. “Jordan happened to be open and we were able to go to him, and he delivered for us most of the night.”
But he was the only one. The rest of the team was 15-of-51 on field goals, with the three guards — Quarterman, Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray — combining to go 12-of-41.
“We just didn’t have the shots go down like we needed,” Jones said.
Mississippi State’s decisive 19-10 flurry came shortly after LSU held its biggest lead of the game at 57-54 on Martin’s lone field goal with 4:18 left.
“I definitely felt like we had some good momentum,” Hornsby said. “At that point, it was all about how we did on defense and how we rebounded, and when we got back on offense, how we converted.”
They didn’t, at least not often enough, which helped end a three-game winning streak built partly on solid play down the stretch in two of those games.
They’ll have a chance to get back on track with a three-game, six-day homestand that starts Thursday against Auburn and also brings Alabama and No. 1 Kentucky to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, but the Tigers know they let another one get away.
“It hurts losing here knowing we could have had a chance to win the game,” Quarterman said. “We had a lot of momentum coming into this game. We’re going back home. We have three games at home, so we’re trying to focus on the next game.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.