Tony Criswell could have let go, but he held on, with both arms, to the body of LSU forward Johnny O’Bryant during the final minute of Tuesday's basketball game.
Criswell and the rest of his teammates had heard since Saturday about how the size of 6-foot 9-inch O’Bryant and 6-foot-8-inch forward Jordan Mickey would pose a problem for a Missouri team limited in size and production down low.
And it did.
Missouri, which breezed to a 10-0 record thanks to a less than spectacular nonconference schedule, lost its third Southeastern Conference game in less than two weeks. LSU won 77-71 in Baton Rouge on Tuesday.
With less than a minute to play, LSU led by four thanks in large part to the physical superiority of O’Bryant, who finished with 16 points, and Mickey, who finished with six blocks.
So Criswell held on, bear hugging O’Bryant in a desperate attempt to keep Missouri from dropping another conference road game, to keep Missouri from slipping closer towards the NCAA bubble.
But Criswell’s arms never made it to the basketball, which O’Bryant released as the whistle blew with 46 seconds remaining. Both players fell, and O’Bryant, the biggest man on the floor, watched his game-sealing shot sink through the hoop from the ground. LSU now led 72-66.
It was an effort indicative of the dominance LSU benefited from in the frontcourt and the resulting futility Missouri got from its.
In a battle between LSU’s forwards and Missouri’s guards, the Tigers from the Show-Me State once again received an effective, efficient performance from its three perimeter scorers.
But that was overshadowed by Missouri's lack of size and strength on the block.
Missouri is now 14-4 overall and 2-3 in SEC play after surrendering 19 points to Shavon Coleman and a double-double to Mickey, a freshman who finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
“It obviously wasn’t one of our better moments defensively,” Missouri coach Frank Haith told The Associated Press. “LSU made some big shots and made their free throws when they went to the line down the stretch. We were slow reacting a little bit on defense.”
LSU shot 18-for-26 from the free throw line, including four consecutive makes by Anthony Hickey in the final minute to keep the six-point lead secure that O'Bryant provided.
“I’m really proud of how our team bore their neck,” LSU coach Johnny Jones told the AP. “They got stops and tough rebounds on the defensive end. Then, they were able to execute on the offensive end. They knocked down some big free throws.”
Missouri landed in Baton Rouge as the SEC’s second best team at getting to the free throw line. But the Tigers failed at drawing contact in the paint. Missouri attempted just 19 free throws and had nine shots blocked. Hands that usually get body were getting ball.
That combination resulted in Criswell, Ryan Rosburg, Keanau Post and Johnathan Williams III – Missouri’s post players — combining for eight points.
The ineffectiveness of the Missouri interior attack was most obvious on a second-half possession when Missouri missed three consecutive offensive put-backs.
After a Tim Quarterman jumper put LSU up 52-49, little-used reserve forward Torren Jones missed a layup. Then Ross missed one, then Criswell missed. The ball eventually became loose and found its way into the hands of Jordan Clarkson near the top of the key.
Clarkson ignored an open Jabari Brown on the wing and instead had his dunk attempt blocked emphatically by Mickey, culminating another frustrating possession for a Tiger team that, at the rim, has been often overmatched.
Clarkson finished with 19 points but had turnovers and shots blocked down the stretch. A career-high 28 points from Brown, on 10-for-15 shooting and five 3-pointers, kept Missouri in the game.
Brown’s tomahawk dunk in transition brought Missouri within two points at 53-51, his fadeaway 3-pointer from the top of the key put Missouri ahead 65-64 with under 3 minutes, 39 seconds to play.
But LSU responded quickly with two free throws and a field goal by Mickey and a layup from Coleman.
Another Brown 3-pointer cut LSU’s lead to three with 18.2 seconds to play.
Individually, Brown was stopped only once, momentarily, when blood trickled from his knee and reached the bottom of his shin at one point in the second half. A quick bandage from the Missouri trainer stopped the bleeding.
Another conference loss too soon, and the Tigers may need a bandage too.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.