As ugly as it got at times for LSU, the Tigers were able to put away UC Irvine late last night with a closer than comfort 66-59 win over the Anteaters. LSU was led by Justin Hamilton and Eddie Ludwig who combined to score 26 points for the Tigers. Ralston Turner tried his best to lose the game, shooting an incredibly bad 2-17 and 1-6 from 3. It was frustrating to see Trent Johnson leave him in the game when he clearly had no intention of stopping and was going to shoot any chance he got.
It's amazing how wrong I've been, so far, about the roles the Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner would play this year. I thought Turner would lead the team and have the best chance at making the All-SEC team. Now, with Stringer out of the lineup, at times LSU has looked much worse on offense. The combination of Stringer's ability to get into the lane and dish the ball off, along with his long range shooting, has made him a better player this year. His shooting numbers are up, his turnovers are down, and he's getting more steals.
Turner, on the other hand, has decreased his shooting percentage, while his three point percentage is nearly identical to what it was last year. He hasn't even tried to increase his rebounding totals, despite being the biggest guard that LSU has at 6'6". Hickey has shown to be a better rebounder than Turner has been so far. Coach Johnson will need to change something, because Turner cannot simply be given the green light to shoot bricked 3 pointers with 28 seconds on the shot clock until he makes one. It would be one thing if this was an off game, but alas, it's not. He's had a very poor shooting season, and hasn't made an effort to make those around him better. Stringer did, and that's why he's finding himself with more open shots and has flourished so far.
Justin Hamilton, however, played extremely well. His stat line is great, 14 points and 11 rebounds, but what you don't see is the numerous charges that he drew, his defensive presence that resulted in a lot of missed shots down low, and he even added 2 blocks. Hamilton bailed out a lot of the shooters on offense, and was able to succeed in rebounding the offensive misses and converted them into layups. O'Bryant had a little trouble in that area, but Hamilton was able to get better positioning on offense.
Another great thing about Hamilton's play was how clutch it was. 9 of his 14 points came with 8 minutes or less left in the game. When LSU needed big buckets to keep UCI down, Hamilton was the one that provided them. They didn't have an answer on defense for Hamilton, and he continued to draw fouls on them when he wasn't making baskets.
I also thought Chris Bass had a solid game off the bench. 3 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal(as well as a forced turnover) all without a turnover of his own. That gives him 9 assists and 0 turnovers in Stringer's absence. He's a senior that gets it. He doesn't have the best jump shot in the world, but he is a good enough ball handler and has enough size to play good defense. That's all LSU needs him to be, and he's another player that's flourishing in his role.
I would have like to have seen Trent substitute better. Whether it was an actual strategy or not, substituting 5 players at a time isn't ideal. This was a game that there was a mix of bench and starting players playing well, and he never tried to find the best lineup. I would have went with Hamilton, Warren, Ludwig, Bass, and Hickey. I can't recall ever seeing that exact line up, other than perhaps with about 4 minutes left in the game.
Eddie Ludwig had a decent game as well. He was a little bit soft after getting some rebounds. It cost LSU a basket early in the second half, and a possession late in the game off a missed free throw. He made up for the second one the next time down the floor with a big jump shot with little over a minute to go and with the shot clock at one. It was a pretty lucky shot, but a dagger nonetheless for Irvine.
Give the Anteaters credit though, they actually played pretty well and were well coached. Their defensive schemes worked very well with LSU's willingness to throw up three pointers and the lack of adjustments from LSU. Irvine did a good job hitting some tough shots at the end and getting some key offensive rebounds. Credit LSU for making their free throws in the second half, as well, because it was probably the difference today with the poor field goal shooting.
Up next is the undefeated Marquette Golden Eagles on Monday night. It's quite possible that the game against Marquette will be at worst the second most difficult home game this season, perhaps only exceeded by Kentucky. Marquette is led by Darius Johnson-Odom, perhaps the best shooting guard that LSU will face all season and Jae Crowder, a JUCO transfer with a nice shooting touch as well.
At this time, Marquette owns possibly the best road win of the season, as they defeated their in state foes, the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers have one of the best home court winning percentages in the nation under Bo Ryan, and win well over 80% of their games at home.
So far this season, teams have had a tough time winning on the road. Although Marquette does have the best road win, that doesn't make their game against LSU a gimme. It's a classic example of a trap game. LSU has the experience to match up with the experience of the Golden Eagles. Marquette is without center Chris Otule, who suffered a possible season ending knee injury.
More to come on that game later. For now, LSU can feel good about taking care of business over the last couple of weeks and setting themselves up to put Marquette on upset alert.