ST. LOUIS — On too many occasions this season, the LSU basketball team has dug itself too big of a hole in the first half of games.
Whether it’s poor shooting on offense or lapses on defense, Will Wade’s team falls behind before making halftime adjustments needed to get back in the game.
It happened once again Thursday night in the Scottrade Center. LSU lost 80-77 in a second-round Southeastern Conference tournament game against Mississippi State, which the Tigers handled by 21 points just five days earlier in Baton Rouge.
LSU trailed by 19 points in the first half and was down 16 at halftime against a hot-shooting Mississippi State team that struggled mightily from the field in Saturday’s loss.
The rematch was certainly different when New Orleans native Lamar Peters staked his team to a comfortable double-digit halftime lead before having to withstand LSU’s strong second half.
“We’re obviously disappointed; we dug ourselves a huge hole in the first half to get down 16, and we weren’t able to dig out of that hole,” Wade said. “Give them credit. Peters was great.”
LSU (17-14) was eliminated from the SEC tournament by Mississippi State (22-10) for the second year in a row, leaving the Tigers to await word of a possible National Invitation Tournament bid.
The 32-team NIT field will be announced Sunday night following the NCAA tournament selection show, with LSU hoping to earn a spot after increasing its win total by seven from last year’s 10-21 campaign.
State, meanwhile, kept its hopes alive as an NCAA bubble team and will have a chance to build on its victory in the quarterfinals on Friday night against No. 2 seed Tennessee, the SEC regular-season co-champions.
Peters, a former Landry-Walker star, buried four of Mississippi State’s six 3-point baskets and had 13 points in the first eight minutes to help build a 27-18 lead.
By the end of the first half, State was 9 of 12 from 3-point range and shot 64 percent on all field goals.
A 6-foot sophomore point guard, Peters was 4 of 6 from deep in the first half en route to scoring 24 points — the most he’s had in five career games against his home-state school — to go with six assists.
“They did a great job shooting the ball, especially in the first half, and we just weren't able to get into the flow of the game quick enough,” Wade said. “That's how the game got away from us.”
As it turned out, Mississippi State needed every one of Peters’ points to hold off LSU. Brothers Nick and Quinndary Weatherspoon added 15 points each, and Aric Holman had 11.
The Tigers got a game-high 28 from Tremont Waters, who played with a protective mask after breaking his nose in practice Monday. Daryl Edwards had 11 points and Brandon Rachal 10 — both off the bench.
Waters’ 35-foot basket over Peters’ outstretched hand with 9 seconds left sliced State’s once-huge lead to one point before a Nick Weatherspoon dunk with 1 second remaining essentially ended it.
Rachal, who also had a team-high nine rebounds after Wade decided to go with a mostly four- and five-guard lineup in the second half, put up a desperation heave from beyond midcourt that came up short.
“Our bigs, Duop (Reath) and (Aaron) Epps, weren't doing anything,” Wade said. “We don't have any other big guys, so you've got to try something. We're not going to sit there and try the same stuff and expect things to change.”
It nearly helped LSU pull one out in the end.
“We got, obviously, a little crazy there down the stretch,” State coach Ben Howland said. “Give LSU credit. I told them at halftime … my number one message at halftime (was) 'They’re not going away.'
“Waters is something special. He’s really a heck of a player, and you have to credit them for what they did going small, switching everything.”
Peters said his productive first half was simple.
“We were moving the ball and I was able to get some open shots,” he said. “We’ve been getting a lot of shots up in practice during the week.
"I was putting more arc on it and just was focused on knocking it down when I was open.”