Just outside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Louisiana State’s Mike the Tiger guards the area in his lavish habitat, one fit for a pampered 500-pound live mascot. An hour before LSU tipped off against Missouri on Tuesday night, the 8-year-old tiger scampered around his yard and let out the occasional roar as onlookers snapped photos and shot videos.

On the court, LSU had its own protection plan for its visitors from the north.

The host Tigers blocked nine shots and controlled the lane when it mattered most in a 77-71 victory over Mizzou, led by freshman Jordan Mickey, who lived up to his billing as the SEC’s top shot-blocker. He swatted away five shots to go along with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

A season-long shortcoming of Frank Haith’s Tigers (14-4, 2-3 SEC) resurfaced in the swamplands: Mizzou struggles to finish at the rim. This time, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

“We weren’t going to shy away,” Haith said. “You’ve got to be aggressive. You can’t be soft against a team because they block shots. I thought we were in attack mode.”

Especially early. Against an LSU front line considered the biggest and most talented in the SEC, Mizzou outscored the home Tigers 18-10 in the lane in the first half despite missing six of 13 layups or dunk attempts. But a Mizzou team that relies on scoring from the free throw line only drew four fouls in the half and shot just one free throw — a statistic Haith brought up multiple times after the game.

“That was a season-low for us in a half,” he said.

“I feel like we got to the rim a lot,” said Mizzou guard Jabari Brown, who scored a career-high with 28 points. “We didn’t always get the call, but that’s part of the game. It’s going to be like that sometimes, I guess.”

The Tigers got to the line more often in the second half — they shot 10 of 15 from the stripe — but couldn’t convert enough scoring chances down the stretch or find offense outside of its triple scoring threat. Brown, Jordan Clarkson (19 points) and Earnest Ross (16) scored all but eight of Mizzou’s points as five other teammates combined to shoot just four of 21.

“We’ve got confidence in our teammates,” Brown said. “We’re not just trying to pass it between us three. We want everyone to get involved.”

The home team had its own issues early. Insisting on jacking 3-pointers from all parts of Louisiana, LSU (12-5, 3-2) seemed to forget it was allowed to let dynamic scoring forwards Johnny O’Bryant III and Mickey touch the ball early in the first half as the Tigers consistently launched from deep against Mizzou’s zone defense. Of LSU’s first 25 shots, 17 came from behind the 3-point arc.

That strategy changed in the second half as LSU settled for fewer quick 3’s and let O’Bryant outmuscle Mizzou for points inside.

Brown put Mizzou ahead 65-64 on a 3-pointer with 3:39 left, but on consecutive chances, Tim Quarterman blocked a Clarkson drive and Tony Criswell fumbled the ball in the lane, setting up Coleman for a transition dunk. O’Bryant powered through the lane for a layup on LSU’s next possession, good for a six-point lead with 46 seconds left. O’Bryant finished with 16 points, to go along with 19 from Shavon Coleman and 12 from guard Andre Stringer. All but two of LSU’s 13 field goals in the second half came at the rim.

“I thought we did a much better job of being aggressive at the basket,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said, “which allowed us to get to the free throw line and some high-percentage scores.”