STARKVILLE, Miss. – LSU's frantic last-minute rally fell a few points short in a 76-71 loss to No. 18 Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
But Tigers' coach Trent Johnson couldn't find much fault with his team. The officiating was another story.
Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie tied a career-high with 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, finishing with his 12th double-double of the season. Johnson was called for a technical foul in the final seconds, and voiced his displeasure after the game.
"When you've got good kids and they struggle and they fight and there's things going on out there you don't like, that's hard," Johnson said.
Later he added: "The game was decided on the boards, but there was a reason for that. You can't be as aggressive as you want. I just want a clarification so I can help my kids."
Moultrie had 19 points in the second half as the Bulldogs built on a 32-31 halftime lead. The 6-foot-11 junior made 10 of 18 shots from the field and grabbed six offensive rebounds, scoring on his usual array of alley-oops, putbacks and post moves.
"We got the ball in there to him a lot in the first half, but he missed some shots," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "He really found a way to finish in the second half."
Jalen Steele scored 15 points — hitting 3 of 4 from 3-point range — and Rodney Hood added 13 for Mississippi State (17-4, 4-2 Southeastern Conference), which outrebounded LSU 46-26. Dee Bost had nine points, seven rebounds and 10 assists.
Andre Stringer led the Tigers (12-8, 2-4) with 17 points off the bench. Anthony Hickey scored 16 and 7-foot Justin Hamilton added 11.
Mississippi State led by as many as 12 points in the second half and appeared to have the game in hand after taking a 68-59 lead with 1:50 remaining. But then LSU went on a stunning run from 3-point range.
Hickey drilled back-to-back jumpers from behind the arc to pull LSU within 68-65 with 54 seconds remaining. Ralston Turner hit another 3 to make it 70-68 and Hickey hit another that bounced off the backboard to pull to 72-71 with 15 seconds left.
"We had the game under control and then they made some great threes," Stansbury said.
The only thing that saved the Bulldogs was a 6-for-6 performance at the free throw line during the final minutes and a defensive stand on the last possession that ended with Moultrie and Bost knocking the ball away from Hickey.
Steele scored a team-high 10 points in the first half as Mississippi State took a 32-31 lead at halftime.
LSU scored first after the break on Hamilton's layup, but the Bulldogs scored the next 11 points to take a 43-33 lead.
LSU is one of the few teams in the SEC that appeared to have the size to match up against the Bulldogs, especially since 6-9 freshman Johnny O'Bryant played for the first time in five games after breaking a bone in his non-shooting (left) hand. O'Bryant played with a wrap on the hand, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds.
But nobody could stop Moultrie, who leads the SEC in double-doubles and rebounding, averaging more than 11 per game.
"I really felt good during the shootaround," Moultrie said. "When that happens I know I'm going to have a good game."
LSU has lost four of its past five games. Stringer's good play earlier in the game kept the Tigers within striking range.
Stringer was banished to the bench for just the second time this season after a poor performance over the weekend against Florida, but responded with one of his better games of the season, scoring 17 points in 25 minutes.
The 5-9 point guard from nearby Jackson scored eight straight points at one point in the second half, including back-to-back 3-pointers, to shrink an 11-point deficit to 49-46 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: (at)davidbrandt