Well, that's the kind of performance we've been waiting for.
For all the good this LSU hoops team had done through the first ten games, there was something missing. Yes, the Tigers had amassed some key non-conference wins, survived the hiccup in the Bahamas without ruining the season and taken care of the teams it was supposed to.
And yet... they hadn't truly dominated a game. Even against lower-level foes like McNeese, Gardner Webb and Sam Houston, the games were a little in doubt at some point in the second half.
That monkey is officially off LSU's back, as they absolutely drubbed College of Charleston in the PMAC on Monday night. The Cougars aren't great but they aren't appreciably better or worse than the Cowboys, Bearkats or even the UAB team LSU clawed a road win out against last week.
But this is how LSU should look against these kind of teams, with a premier 1-2 punch in Martin and Mickey and steady enough perimeter play to bolster the interior dominance. We got that and more against CoC.
The Tigers were aggressive and tenacious on defense from start to finish, putting together their first truly complete game guarding the rim. Of course there was Jordan Mickey, swatting six shots, including THREE IN A ROW on one possession. We're used to that by now. Better was seeing Jarell Martin affecting shots, Jalyn Patterson and Tim Quarterman wrecking passing lanes and Keith Hornsby running all over the court hassling the 3-point minded guards the Cougars have.
Truthfully, the 47 points doesn't even do it justice. The Cougars didn't reach the 30-point mark until the 9:37 mark of the final half, and the remaining buckets mostly came against LSU's junior varsity bench squad. Overall. LSU swatted 11 shots, forced 17 turnovers, committed just 16 fouls and held Charleston to a 28-percent shooting night. That's dominant defense, and honestly something we should see more of from this lanky, athletic bunch.
And remember, this was all without Josh Gray in the lineup. That means Jalyn Patterson got 27 more crucial minutes of experience while also allowing LSU to work in Elbert Robinson III and Aaron Epps for some necessary reps. Patterson again hit a couple big shots that helped LSU extend its 1st-half lead, while Hornsby and Quarterman were again a steady duo, if not quite as spectacular as they were against the Blazers last Thursday. "Where are the bench contributors?" was a lot more valid question a few weeks ago, but once Gray returns, a rotation with Patterson, Quarterman and Bridgewater should be LSU's go-to reserves for league play, and I'll feel just fine about it.
It's hard to oversell Jordan Mickey's brilliance for this team, and he admittedly still needs to control the action a bit more on the offensive end. But we're seeing the best LSU shot blocker since Shaquille O'Neal and it's really not close. Mickey just passed Chris Johnson for 2nd on the career blocks list at LSU, and Johnson did it in four years. Mickey's surpassed him in 45 contests. This was the third time this season he's blocked five or more shots in a game, and his 32 swats this year have him right on pace to match or surpass his total of 106 from his freshman campaign. Not only that, but his defensive presence wears on an offense and terrifies guards into poor shots in the lane, allowing LSU's perimeter defense to gamble more and rotations to wait a second longer.
Mickey's excellence plus an inspired defensive and rebounding effort created a previously unseen version of this Tiger team. Performances like that, coupled with their road tenacity, makes me believe this team is serious about contending for the No. 2 spot in the SEC behind Kentucky. Yes, there were 19 turnovers that need cleaning up and is really the only nitpick to be had. That just gives Johnny Jones something to work with in practice after Christmas.
Still, an LSU team that has added "putting teams away" to its repertoire is likely to draw on that experience again versus a plethora of SEC teams that are mediocre and begging to get tagged. Now, just go do that two more times to Southern Miss and Savannah State and let the real season begin.