Would you have guessed LSU was an underdog in their own stadium before this game? Before a 19 point shellacking of the previously undefeated Houston Cougars? Would you also believe it was a one point game going to the half? LSU took the lead on a buzzer beater layup by Antonio Blakeney, and kept the lead through the entire second half, outscoring the Cougars 45-27. It was by far the most impressive, complete half of basketball I’ve seen the Tigers play so far this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Turnovers plagued LSU in The Bahamas, as they committed 18 against VCU and 21 against Old Dominion. That wasn’t totally the case tonight, as LSU only committed 12 turnovers to Houston’s 13. Coach Johnny Jones said after the game, “we came back certainly with a different focus and mindset,” and it definitely showed in the box score. A big, bright, shining star in this regard is freshman Skylar Mays, who dished out an incredible 11 assists with only 1 turnover. Those 11 assists are the most from an LSU player since 2002! “I was just trying to get everyone involved,” the humble freshman admitted. While Mays yet again failed to score a single point, his positive contributions to the offense cannot be overstated.
Craig Victor’s 2016-17 PMAC debut was a very strong showing as well, as he finished with 13 points and a rebound short of a double double. His four steals and a block, though, show how much the Tigers missed him. He noted the Tigers’ defense won the game tonight, and was one of their better, if not best, defensive showings all season. “It was mainly our key to play team defense...our wings contained their wings.”
And contain their wings they did. Houston would only shoot 8-24 from the field, and 2-8 from 3 point range in the second half. In addition to the strong perimeter defense, the guard combination put up great offensive numbers, as Brandon Sampson and Antonio Blakeney combined for 39 of the Tigers’ 84 points. “I think we just got more confident and comfortable shooting the ball, with better looks,” noted Sampson, who went 6-9 from the field.
“Winning the war on the boards was definitely a focus tonight,” Blakeney said, somewhat downplaying how dominant the 46-28 out-rebounding performance was. No one player broke double digits on the boards, but the team combined for 20 offensive rebounds, which led to 23 second chance points.
All in all, just a very smooth, comfortable win against a presumed better team. Blakeney said after the game, “every win feels good, but this one feels a little better. They were undefeated and beat us last year,” referencing last year’s overtime loss in Houston. This win brings the Tigers to a 5-2 record, and adds a win against a solid RPI booster in Houston, even though it’s a bit too early to be thinking about all that. Either way, the win is a very important one, because it can build tons of confidence and rhythm to ride on for the season. As Coach Jones put it, “it was the best 40 minutes we’ve played all year long,” and hopefully it won’t be the last time he says that this season.
LSU will spend the next two weeks studying for and hopefully passing all their finals with flying colors. Their next game is another contest in the PMAC, this time against the North Carolina Central Eagles, who just beat Mizzou to improve to 4-2. That game will again be an 8pm tip on Tuesday, December 13th, televised on the SEC Network.