The Fighting Tigers basketball team completed their four game road trip on Sunday afternoon with a 59-50 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, giving the team a winning record through the first five games. The story for LSU continues to be the emergence of the freshmen, Anthony Hickey Jr. and Johnny O'Bryant. It's not often that two highly recruited players start off the season so well. Both players have really shown quite a bit of skill and maturity so far.
Anthony Hickey, right now, is the leader of this LSU team. Whether you choose to watch him in person or dig through the statistics, they all point to that conclusion. His fantastic statistics, 13 points a game, 4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.6 steals, show that he's literally all over the court. These statistics were all compiled while only playing about 30 minutes a game. The game against Georgia Tech was the most impressive of all, in which he lead the game in scoring with 20 big points.
Hickey's composure on the floor is something that the ESPN game announcers brought up in multiple games. Normally I don't listen to them too much, but they were right. Hickey had his fair share of mistakes, whether it was trying to do too much or throwing up a couple of ill-advised shots. Many times though, you would find Hickey coming up with a loose ball or a steal on the very next play and reclaiming momentum for LSU. I wish I had video of the most impressive play, in which Hickey beat a Northwestern player from one end of the court to another to get to a loose ball that rolled off a players toe. It was the kind of play that just makes me proud, because last year LSU would have let it roll down the floor and give the opposition another chance to score.
Johnny O'Bryant was also quite impressive, though he was also a lot more inconsistent. He started off extremely hot with a 21 point performance against Northwestern, but then followed that up with a two point game against WKU. The two points really don't tell how poorly he actually played on the offensive end. It was just one of those games where it felt like he had a lid on the basket. Shots he was making the day before weren't falling, and he also had loads of trouble passing it out from double teams, resulting in 4 turnovers against the Hilltoppers.
I think we will continue to see this from JOB. He will have these up and down games because of his inexperience. You can see the difference that a year makes with the play of Ralston Turner. Turner is shooting an abysmal 32% so far this year, but is averaging over 10 points a game. That's what experience can do for a player. Turner is finding ways to score even though he is having very poor shooting performances.
I can't go any further, though, without giving credit to Andre Stringer for stepping up his game after a bad shooting night against Coastal. If you were to just look at the statistics, it doesn't look like much of an improvement. However, against Northwestern, he was able to get to the line and made all four of his free throws. He's added another dimension to his game, and it was on display throughout the Charleston Classic. He is trying his best to get to the basket with his speed, rather than just trying to find a spot outside the 3 point line. He had a couple of shots that were blocked in the games, but they were aggressive moves to the basket. Against NW, he was getting the foul calls that sent him to the line. Overall, he's exactly where I predicted at 10.2 points, but he's exceeded all shooting percentages that I thought he would have.
Even with Stringer's improvement, it is Justin Hamilton that is quietly our second leading scorer so far, ahead of everyone except Hickey. I thought Hamilton would be a threat on offense, but I didn't expect to see him with such an expanded offensive game. His jump shot against Georgia Tech was a dagger that essentially put the game out of reach with about a minute to go. He's shown that he's capable of making hook shots, offensive putbacks, short and medium range jump shots, and even just hustling for long rebounds. Hamilton has really exceeded my expectations so far, even though he's shooting it at a lower percentage than he was at Iowa State.
But what does this all mean? In my opinion, at this rate LSU could really be on a roll by the time Marquette comes to town. They are the only ranked team on our non-conference slate, though it's looking like Northwestern may end up being ranked shortly. South Alabama will be in the PMAC tonight with a tip-off of 7:00 CT, and LSU then travels to Houston for a game in a week. Houston has been hot to start the season, and already took down the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team. That game looks like it will be much more of a challenge than it did to start the season. We'll know more about Rutgers and Boise State in a week, but truth be told, there's no reason that LSU can't win all 4 of those games.
What it will take is the composure that we saw in the second half of the WKU game, the majority of the Georgia Tech game, and the first half of the Northwestern game. LSU was playing team basketball. LSU was hustling. During all three games, we saw the inexperience of all of our players, but in all of the games they rallied back. Last year, I remember the team quitting in those games. They didn't have the sense of ease that even though they were losing the game wasn't over.
Now, it's time to see whether it was a one time change for the Tigers, or if they truly have hope themselves for the season. South Alabama doesn't look like a team on paper that will have enough to beat LSU, but at this point, the Tigers cannot overlook any opponent.