Mississippi State Basketball: Three Keys to Victory vs LSU

Mississippi State basketball takes on LSU in the SEC Tournament in what is a must-win game. What are the keys to victory for the Bulldogs?

Feb 24, 2024; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Dashawn Davis (10)
Feb 24, 2024; Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Dashawn Davis (10) / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State basketball takes on the LSU Tigers in the SEC Tournament on Thursday. The 9-seed Bulldogs (19-12, 8-10 SEC) badly need a win over the 8-seed Tigers (17-14, 9-9 SEC). State closed out the regular season with four-straight losses, and as a result, their NCAA Tournament hopes are on the line.

This is a must-win game for Mississippi State basketball. Here are the Bulldogs' three keys to victory against LSU...

1. Mississippi State basketball must start fast against LSU

During their losing-streak, slow starts have plagued Mississippi State basketball. They had no issues early on against Kentucky, but in their losses to Auburn, Texas A&M, and South Carolina, the Bulldogs had significant struggles offensively that put them behind in each game.

Over their last three games, MSU is a combined 14-42 from the floor (33%) in the first 10 minutes of those games. More than a 1/3 of their turnovers in these prior three games occurred during that opening stretch.

If not for their slow starts, State likely wins against Texas A&M and South Carolina and at least could've competed with Auburn. They cannot afford another slow start against LSU.

2. Mississippi State basketball's defense has to return to its old form

Since Chris Jans took over the program last season, Mississippi State basketball's reputation has been elite defensive play. But in recent games, the defense has been anything but elite.

State's opponents have shot a combined 50% from the floor over the last four games. They've been 37% from three. That's pretty awful. And while some of it has been great offense and occasional bad luck for the defense, they've not been doing a good job of contesting shots, both on the perimeter or in the paint.

The result has been State getting into shootouts that they really aren't built to keep up in. Josh Hubbard has almost single-handedly kept the Bulldogs alive in these high-scoring contests, but there's a reason they've lost them all. MSU must give better effort on defense against a LSU team that's capable of great offense.

3. Tolu Smith needs to dominate

Tolu Smith has had a remarkable career, and he's put together another strong season in his final year in Starkville. But lately Mississippi State hasn't gotten the performances they've needed from him on the offensive end.

In the last two games, Smith didn't record his first made field goal until the second half. If not for a surprising made-jumper in the final seconds of the first half at Auburn, it would've been three-straight games for Smith without a first half make.

Defenses have honed-in on Tolu much like they did last season, making it difficult for Mississippi State to get him the ball down low and for him to have consistently clean looks at shots. And he has gotten plenty of free throw chances early in games because of how much his shot is contested.

But he's also had several point-blank misses and has, at times, been seemingly non-existent on the court. Though more scoring options have emerged for Mississippi State basketball, they are still at their best when Tolu is playing like his usual self. They have to find ways to get him the ball in good position, and he's got to connect when he gets those chances.

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