Hubbard heats up in second half as Mississippi State takes down LSU, 70-60, in SEC Tournament

Trae Hannibal led LSU with 18 points in what may have been the final game of his collegiate career - but probably not, as LSU chances of going to the NIT likely improved with its loss to the Bulldogs. PHOTO By LSU Athletics

LSU’s season may have come to an end on Thursday in the second round of the SEC Tournament.

But – oddly enough – No. 8 seed LSU more than likely improved its chances of getting a postseason NIT bid by losing to No. 9 Mississippi State, 70-60, on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.

Mississippi State’s Josh Hubbard scored 14 of his 24 points in the second half as the Bulldogs overcame a 29-22 halftime deficit to outscore LSU in the second half, 48-31, in a slugfest.

Mississippi State (20-12) snapped a four-game losing streak that ended its regular season and will face SEC regular-season champion, the tournament’s top seed and No. 5-ranked Tennessee in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Hubbard, who only made one field goal in the first half, was  6-of-16 shooting for the game but made 9 of 10 free throws. Meanwhile, Dashawn Davis added 12 points. Tolu Smith grabbed 13 rebounds and D.J. Jeffries had 11 boards as the Bulldogs outrebounded the Tigers 24-12 in the second half, reversing the first-half totals.

Trae Hannibal scored 18 points while Hunter Dean came off the bench to add 10 for LSU (17-15).

Mississippi State, with a NET ranking of 42 entering Thursday’s game against LSU, is believed to have clinched a berth in the NCAA Tournament with the win.

An LSU win on Thursday very likely would have eliminated Mississippi State from NCAA Tournament contention but would have placed the Bulldogs ahead of the Tigers in consideration for the NIT.

The NIT automatically takes the two top-rated teams from the SEC that did not make the NCAA field. Currently, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are ranked higher than LSU.

Texas A&M plays Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament second round later Thursday. If the Aggies win, they are also believed to be in the NCAA Tournament. That would leave Ole Miss and LSU, in order, as the automatic qualifiers from the SEC for the NIT.

It is also possible, LSU could enter the final selection process on Sunday (May 17) on the outside looking in if Ole Miss beats Texas A&M on Thursday but could still pick up an at-large NIT bid.

Ironically, had LSU held on to beat Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament, the Bulldogs would have been NIT bound for sure, possibly at LSU’s expense.

Mississippi State rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit, outscoring LSU, scoring the first six points of the second half to cut the Tigers lead to on a three-point play by Cam Matthews and a long 3 from Davis.

LSU called timeout and Tigers’ coach Matt McMahon appeared livid on the sideline.

LSU appeared to have regrouped when play resumed.

Will Baker knocked down his second 3 of the game and then Tyrell Ward stole the ensuing Bulldogs’ inbounds pass and slammed it home to give the Tigers a 34-28 lead.

But Mississippi State went on a 14-2 run from that point, culminating when Hubbard whipped a one-handed pass through the interior of the LSU defense to an open Shakeel Moore on a backdoor cut at the goal for an easy layup to give the Bulldogs a 52-43 lead with 7:52 to play in the game.

Hannibal led a LSU comeback and got the Tigers within a point but Hubbard hit a pair of 3-pointers and added another basket over the next four minutes and the Bulldogs went out in front by 10 with a minute left.

In the first half, the teams were tied midway through the first half after a Ward 3-pointer. Jordan Wright and Ward then hit consecutive 3s and LSU went into the halftime ahead 29-22 after shutting down the Bulldogs in the final 7:42 and holding them to zero field goals.

Mississippi State has now eliminated LSU from the SEC Tournament the last six times the two have faced each other in the event with the Tigers last conference tournament win over the Bulldogs coming in 1987.

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Todd Horne

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