LSU’s Inability to Finish at the Rim Keeps the Tigers from Closing The Deal Against Arkansas

Jordan Wright led LSU in scoring with 24 points but the Tigers could not catch Arkansas all game and the Tigers simply could not finish. PHOTO By LSU Athletics

Arkansas and guard Khalif Battle finished.

LSU could not.

That was the difference in Fayetteville on Wednesday night at Bud Walton Arena where Arkansas avenged an earlier season 21-point loss to LSU with a 94-83 victory over the Tigers in a game where the Razorbacks led virtually from start to finish.

LSU led only once, 7-6, with a little more than 17 minutes to play in the first half. It was short-lived and the Tigers, who came into the game hoping to win for only the ninth time ever in Bud Walton Arena and pick up its ninth SEC win of the season and likely guarantee themselves at least a 9-9 conference record and a probable NIT postseason bid, found themselves unsuccessfully chasing the Razorbacks all night long.

Now, LSU returns home on Saturday to take on Missouri and must win the season finale if it hopes to have a postseason beyond the SEC Tournament which begins next week in Nashville.

Battle continued his four-game historic heat check for Arkansas, scoring 29 points, one shy of topping 30 points for a fourth straight game. In the last four games, including the win over LSU, Battle scored a total 141 points – more than any player in recent SEC history in four straight games.

Battle made 7 of 14 shots with two 3-pointers and 13 of 14 free throws for the Razorbacks (15-15, 6-11 Southeastern Conference). He added four rebounds and blocked three shots.

Battle had set a school record with 112 points over a three-game span. He scored 42 against Missouri, 36 against Vanderbilt and 34 at No. 16 Kentucky last time out. He made 45 of 49 foul shots in the three previous games. Battle and Mason Jones (2020) are the only Razorbacks to score at least 30 three games in a row.

Arkansas center Makhi Mitchell came off the bench to score 19 on 8-for-10 shooting for Arkansas, adding eight rebounds and three blocks. Meanwhile, El Ellis finished with 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Tramon Mark totaled nine points, eight rebounds and five assists before fouling out.

Neither Battle nor Mitchell scored any points against LSU in Baton Rouge on Feb. 3 when the Tigers got 25 points from Will Baker and dominated Arkansas, 95-74.

Jordan Wright scored 24 points, making all 10 of his free throw attempts, to lead LSU (16-14, 8-9), which had won four of its previous five games.

Tyrell Ward had 19 points and five rebounds. Trae Hannibal and Derek Fountain both scored 10 with Hannibal grabbing 10 rebounds for the Tigers.

LSU turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, as it struggled to establish any real offensive flow. The Tigers also missed shot after shot right at the rim in both the first and second half and had numerous defensive lapses throughout the game, unable to stop Arkansas’ transition offense on a number of occasions and could not get any closer than four points in the second half.

“(In the) second half we didn’t turn it over,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said.

“I don’t know if we had one (in the second half) but we just really struggled to finish plays at the ram tonight but the transition defense, when we were unable to convert (at the rim), they really hurt us out there in the open floor,” he said.

Arkansas’ screen game and back door cuts also ate LSU’s defense up several times in both halves.

“What we were doing defensively, we wanted to protect the painted area, trying to limit their rim shots and their ability to get to the free throw line and obviously didn’t do a very good job getting that done, I thought they were just relentless,” McMahon said.

“They really hurt us on some ball screens and, you know, in a game where we got 16 more shot attempts than they did but they just did a much better job finishing at the basket,” he said.

Arkansas shot 61 percent from the field to LSU’s 45 percent but also converted on 27 of 33 free throw attempts to the Tigers’ 18 made free throws in 26 attempts.

Battle scored 10 first-half points to help Arkansas take a 42-35 lead into halftime. Both teams made 14 baskets with two 3-pointers in the first half, but the Razorbacks sank 12 of 14 from the free-throw line and the Tigers hit 5 of 7.

Chandler Lawson’s three-point play gave the Razorbacks a 48-37 lead just 1:22 into the second half.

LSU stayed within striking distance most of the second half, closing to within 60-56 when Hannibal made the first of two free throws with 11:34 remaining. But Mitchell answered with two foul shots and a layup and Battle nailed a 3-pointer to push Arkansas’ lead back to 11.

LSU twice cut its deficit to five, the last at 69-64 on Wright’s layup with 6:55 left to play. Mitchell scored the first four in a 6-2 Razorbacks’ spurt to push the lead back to double digits and Arkansas simply cruised from that point.

“Not only did he (Mitchell) score at the rim, but he also doled out more than a few passes, and again, when they started at the top, they were able to get guys cutting along the baseline, got to the rim,” McMahon said.

“It was really effective. He’s been playing good basketball, was 14 (points) and seven (rebounds) against Kentucky. He got a lot of those (pick and) rolls right down the middle of the lane and unfortunately, we were unable to do a better job taking those away. But I thought his physical presence at the five was the big difference in the game tonight.

Arkansas leads the all-time series 43-36, including a 24-8 record at Bud Walton Arena.

LSU will close out the regular season against Missouri on Saturday at 7:30 PM central in the PMAC needing a win to finish the SEC regular season at 9-9.

“Credit to Arkansas, they played very well on their senior night tonight,” McMahon said. “They were the better team, and now we’ve got to get back and prepare for Saturday night’s game against Missouri.”

. . . To finish . . .

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