The Tiger guard, who hit the game-winning basket a year ago in Baton Rouge, reprised his 2012 heroics with a short jumper at 1.5 seconds for a 69-68 LSU victory in Humphrey Coliseum. The Tigers improved to 12-7 and 3-5 SEC, escaping the league cellar; while Mississippi State dropped a sixth-straight conference game and fell to 7-13, 2-6.
Rick Ray didn’t need to remind this team of Hickey’s previous end-of-game abilities during timeout, called after Bulldog guard Trivante Bloodman gave State back a lead at 7.9 seconds. Hickey had just the series before driven the right lane and hit a short jumper for a prior lead. So the Mississippi State coach was clear in instructions.
“Coach was like I expect you to run him right and not let him get in the paint, if they do get a run get it stopped,” center Gavin Ware said. “He got into our paint and the ball went up.” And, in.
“You always second-guess yourself in that situation,” first-year State coach Ray said. “But when we made the basket our defensive transition was nowhere to be found, our guys were celebrating.” Rather than give up a runaway Ray stopped everything and gave specific instruction.
“I thought I was pretty clear about what we need to do, but I guess that wasn’t the case.”
Instead it was LSU celebrating a road win. “Hickey made some heroic plays,” Tiger first-year Coach Johnny Jones said. “We didn’t get our heads down when they scored with seven seconds left, we came back and made a play.”
Again, in fact. “It was very exciting,” said Hickey of the last of his 12 points. “I made the same play the last time we played. It was planned out, if they had sucked in I was going to pass out. But they were confident in me and I was able to knock down that shot.”
Hickey was matched for team scoring honors by Johnny O’Bryant with a dozen points, though the forward and Mississippi native had 12 rebounds too before fouling out. Forward Shavon Coleman had 11 points and also fouled out, while James Carmouche came off the bench for ten points.
The outcome was settled on a last shot. But Mississippi State lost their second promising chance of the week to score a much-needed home win before the final seconds. Between 7:50 of the second half and 1:30, Bulldogs combined to miss nine of ten free throws. State did manage to score three baskets in this stretch but giving away so many undefended points cost dearly.
Ray was blunt asked if this was a factor in defeat. “It was the factor. We missed 8-straight down the stretch, so it was the factor.” After making five of seven in the first half, the Dogs missed 12 of 20 in the second. “If we’d have had the free throws we’d have had the game,” Ware said.
Even then the Bulldogs still might have had the game if not for two self-inflicted turnovers in the final ninety seconds. Leading 66-62 State was working for a shot when guard Fred Thomas was called for a hold on the baseline, nowhere near the ball nor play. LSU used the unexpected break to get a three-pointer from Hickey at 0:49. Next time down with the Dogs working the clock forward Colin Borchert waited too long on the right wing. The five-second call at 0:28 led to Hickey’s tough jumper for the first Tiger lead since 17:17 of the opening half.
A half in which State seemed to have put Wednesday’s agonizing overtime loss to Texas A&M behind. With Borchert hitting from outside and Ware working hard around the rim the Bulldogs went on a 11-0 run for a 22-8 lead at 9:54. Even after the Tigers found their footing State was able to match score for score, and turnover for turnover, to take a 40-26 intermission lead.
And again just like their last loss, the Dogs were ahead by 14 points early in the last half at 42-28 after another Borchert jumper. He missed a bonus free shot after the basket that didn’t seem to mean much at the time.
What was more obvious was how LSU, which had shot just 27% in the first half, was adjusting. Carmouche made a surprise difference with his scoring and rebounding in the third quarter, while on the perimeter aggressive Tiger pressure was playing havoc with Bulldog ballhandling. State had just one basket in a four-minute stretch as LSU got the deficit under double-digits.
“We knew it would be a hard-fought game,” Tiger coach Jones said. “We didn’t come out and execute as we needed in the beginning of the game. But at halftime we talked about we need to win in each timeout, each four- or five-minute segment. I thought our guys did an excellent job playing those segments.”
And making their free throws, as LSU was 15-of-18. But the Tigers weren’t sharp shooters, 4-of-25 at the arc. Their turnovers were the same, 17, and did about as much damage in the first half. Timing merely made Mississippi State’s mistakes that much more memorable.
“This one right here hurts,” Ray said. “Because it’s the second game we played that we had a chance to win here at home and didn’t finish. Obviously when you say this it sounds bad, I don’t want to take any credit from LSU. Fact is, we beat ourselves.”
Ware led all scorers with 14 points and State with seven rebounds. Bloodman scored 12 and guard Craig Sword 11, while Borchert and Johnson each added ten. It was Sword (1-of-6) and Johnson (2-of-6) who struggled most at the stripe.
So a week which Bulldogs counted on to turn their season around only extended the losing streak and frustration alike. Now State not only goes back on the road but visits an angry arch-rival Ole Miss on Wednesday; then faces a fast rematch with league-leading Florida on Saturday.
“We’ve got to find a way to lift our guys spirits up and get them playing hard,” Ray said.