NEW ORLEANS, La. -- While the NCAA tournament was probably out of the question for LSU and Arkansas, especially with No. 1 Kentucky awaiting the winner, both teams entered Thursday's SEC tournament opener with hopes of some sort of postseason invite. With both teams needing a win to improve their resumes, the Tigers were the ones that got it. LSU outworked and out-rebounded the Razorbacks to the tune of a 70-54 win.
Beginning with their Feb. 4 loss to LSU and ending with Thursday's loss to the Tigers, the Razorbacks went 2-8 down the stretch this season.
The first half was entertaining, if not entirely pleasant to watch. The Tigers shot a respectable 43 percent, including a 3 of 6 start from 3-point range. They allowed Arkansas to hang around, however, with 10 turnovers in the first half. The Razorbacks managed to secure the ball, but they connected on an abysmal 12 of 33 shots, which was actually an improvement from a 4 of 17 start. The offsetting incompetence led to an eventual 28-28 halftime tie.
LSU jumped out to an eight-point lead immediately out of the locker room, and while the Tigers never completely pulled away, the Razorbacks could never completely answer. Arkansas cut the lead to five points, but the Tigers always seemed to respond with clutch shots and offensive boards.
By the dying minutes, LSU's post presence was too much to handle in what wound up being a runaway win.
Turning point: After going down by eight to start the second half, it seemed the Razorbacks were working back into the game with about 12 minutes to play. Hunter Mickelson and BJ Young scored on consecutive Arkansas possessions to cut LSU's lead to 44-39. But over the next five minutes the Tigers responded with a 9-0 run. It started with a pair of free throws from Johnny O'Bryant, and Ralston Turner followed it up 40 seconds later with a deep 3-pointer. O'Bryant came back to cap it off with an offense board and a putback, giving the Tigers a 51-39 lead and a firm hold on the game.
Key player: O'Bryant picked a great time to put up his best SEC performance. The freshman exploded in the second half, which helped the Tigers dominate the paint. O'Bryant had six points and four boards at halftime, but he finished with 18 and 11. It was his highest SEC point total, and it more than doubled his scoring average for the season. He also carried LSU from the stripe and connected on 10-of-17 free throw attempts.
Key stat: LSU abused the Razorbacks on the glass all afternoon. The Tigers out-rebounded Arkansas, 41-28. Led by five from O'Bryant, LSU finished with 15 offensive rebounds.
Miscellaneous: For a team that can have a lot of trouble scoring, LSU got it together Thursday. The Tigers had five different players finish in double figures. Behind O'Bryant, Storm Warren chipped in 14 points in a rare start. LSU's guard tandem of Turner and Andre Stringer put together 10 and 11 points, respectively, while Justin Hamilton added 10 of his own.
What's next: The Tigers have a date Friday at noon CT with No. 1 Kentucky, which has yet to lose a conference game. Arkansas will go home and hope its 18-14 record is enough for an NIT bid.