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LSU 76, Sam Houston State 67: Tigers Grin and Bear It

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The Tigers didn't shine on Saturday night but they knocked the rust off in necessary fashion.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

At least LSU owned it.

After the game, the players and Johnny Jones admitted it was a rusty effort, not making excuses but recognizing that time off produces imperfections. And for LSU, there's no shame in that. Plenty of solid teams around college basketball during or after finals week got pushed to the brink or lost (hello, Michigan).

Yes, we're still waiting to see the Tigers take care of business with ease against a low-major opponent. For now, that will have to wait and it's not like LSU won't have chances to do just that with the upcoming schedule. A win is good enough for this bunch following that nine-day lay-off which not only kept the Tigers' focus off basketball, but also stunted the momentum and good vibes after the wins versus UMass and West Virginia.

Sam Houston State was more impressive than I - and I'd bet, most people - would have expected but this was an effort game. Sam Houston was clearly the more amped up side in the PMAC on Saturday evening and it showed.

That was most evident on the glass, where the Bearkats were the first team to out rebound LSU all season, pummeling them with leaping guards to the tune of 50 boards. Part of that can be explained by the absurdly high number of shots in the game (134 in total) and a bevy of long caroms due to 23 SHSU 3-point attempts. Still, those facts wouldn't matter much if LSU had been fully engaged from the opening tip, which it was not. That's not a concern, really, since the Tigers thankfully don't exactly have to turn it on again until January.

Jordan Mickey's big night was entirely expected against the undersized Bearkats frontcourt but bouncing back from his West Virginia struggles was key. He mauled SHSU inside with 21 and 15 and four ferocious blocks. No one's surprised that Mickey was the guy to put the team on his back for a night. Still, it's emblematic of one of this team's best qualities so far: about 5 or 6 different guys have proven capable of carrying the scoring load on a given night.

The major negative out of this game is Josh Gray's health. He rolled an ankle hard early in the 2nd half and it's still very much unknown how bad it is or what his timetable is. We should know more early this week before the road trip to UAB on Thursday. There's no sugarcoating Gray's potential absence for any significant length of time. He struggled the first few games, yet seemed to finally strike the right balance lately between scorer and distributor with so many options on offense. The rotation is already thin, and it would be a huge blow to play Tim Quarterman even more minutes than he already does off the bench.

All told, LSU got a decent push from a team that has NIT potential, knocking the rust off at home now that we're really kicking basketball season into gear. LSU can get away with its talent for now, but that rust better be looking like a damned polished diamond once Savannah State, Sam Houston and Gardner Webb roll off the schedule and the likes of Florida, Kentucky and Arkansas roll onto it.