AUBURN, Ala. — As it turned out, a convincing road win against Auburn on Tuesday night did little — on the surface anyway — to enhance the LSU men’s basketball team’s NCAA tournament résumé.
But a computer-generated rating percentage index, which LSU can’t control, took a back seat anyway to what the Tigers could control in their must-have rematch with Auburn.
Taking on a team that seems destined to finish among the bottom four teams in the Southeastern Conference for a second time in 19 days, LSU had no choice but to flip the script from a shocking 81-77 loss to Auburn in Baton Rouge.
That meant doing what Auburn did Feb. 5, which LSU did in returning the favor with a strong performance in an 84-61 drubbing in Auburn Arena. It was the most lopsided road victory for LSU since a 32-point dismantling of Ole Miss in 2009.
When the updated NCAA.com RPI came out Wednesday morning, LSU didn’t move an inch and remained 52nd with three regular-season games to go before the SEC tournament begins in two weeks.
But the satisfying victory beat the alternative: what would have been another devastating loss to a bad team that LSU can’t afford at this point in the season.
The importance of the game against Auburn, which has a losing record and an RPI of 140, couldn’t be overstated, especially by Greg Shaheen.
Shaheen, a former NCAA employee who oversaw the men’s tournament selection process, now works for the SEC as a scheduling consultant.
“(LSU) certainly needs to take care of business tonight. … This will be an important one for them,” Shaheen said during the ESPNU broadcast. “LSU’s in a position to really make a statement as they close out the regular season and head to Nashville for the SEC tournament. They control a lot of their own destiny.”
The Tigers certainly played like it, following the script and crushing Auburn on both ends of the floor with an aggressiveness and edge they didn’t play with in the earlier matchup.
LSU clinched a second consecutive 20-win season — the first time that’s happened since the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons — by attacking the rim on offense and harassing Auburn’s guards on defense.
The aggressive play on offense produced 52 points in the paint to just 18 for Auburn, most of it coming from Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.
Martin had 25 points, including three massive dunks, and Mickey finished with 14 points as LSU shot 57.8 percent — the highest in coach Johnny Jones’ three seasons.
Not to be outdone, the defensive work of Tim Quarterman and Keith Hornsby on KT Harrell and Antoine Mason, respectively, was instrumental. Harrell and Mason combined for 20 points — 32 fewer than they had in the first game.
“On defense, we wanted to make sure we did a great job of making stops,” Jones said. “Offensively, we did a great job of sharing the ball, making plays and valuing each possession. We’re very fortunate to come in here and play that way today.”
Actually, it was a mandate from Jones, who was upset with his team’s play in losing to Auburn in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
His chief complaint that night: The Tigers didn’t follow the scouting report given to them, which allowed Harrell and Mason to light them up from the perimeter.
“It did not take a whole lot to try to get our guys prepared for tonight’s game,” said Jones, whose team never trailed and led by seven at halftime before a 15-0 run in the second half smothered Auburn’s hopes of a second upset.
“Auburn came in and played extremely well, probably as well as anyone, in our place 19 days ago,” he said. “They made shots, defended well and finished the game strong. Tonight, our guys came out and did a great job from the start.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.