LSU looks to “get one back” tonight
Jan. 16 home OT loss to South Carolina still stings the Tigers
At the rate Southeastern Conference teams are going this season, any loss at home stings more than usual.
Entering the week SEC teams not named Kentucky and Florida had combined to post a brutal 16-44 mark on the road in conference play. South Carolina had done its part, losing four of five. The one win came in overtime at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“We let one get away at home,” said sophomore guard Anthony Hickey. “We have to go up there and get it back. We’ll go up there with the same mindset of winning.”
There is reason for optimism for Hickey and his teammates who have been within striking distance in every conference road affair. The one that perhaps looked bleakest was at Mississippi State when the Bulldogs took a six point lead with just 1:47 left, but Hickey’s late heroics actually turned the deficit into LSU’s lone road win.
Though the Tigers have lost all four of their other shots on the road, the average margin of defeat is just over five points. When held up next to the rest of the league, the Tigers’ road resume is respectable.
And this is a shot to get one.
After toppling the Tigers in overtime back on Jan. 16, the Gamecocks have lost six of seven and find themselves tied with Mississippi State at the bottom of the league with just two conference victories.
On the other side of the coin, LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant has found his stride since that night. Against the Gamecocks, O’Bryant battled foul trouble and scored just nine points in 23 minutes.
Since then, O’Bryant has collected six double-doubles in seven games and now carries a 12.6 point, 9.3 rebound average in SEC play with him to Columbia.
Last time out the former McDonald’s All-American posted a career best 22 points while hauling in 11 boards in a tough loss at Alabama.
“As the season has progressed, I think he’s continued to grow,” said LSU coach Johnny Jones of his big man. “Realizing that Justin Hamilton, Malcolm White and Storm Warren are gone, he’s taken on more of that responsibility now, really as of late in terms of scoring, rebounding and really defending. I think he’s really matured in those areas.
“I think before, in the beginning it was almost like those guys were still around. The expectations were there, but he had to carry a bigger load. I think he’s really accepted that responsibility now.”
South Carolina’s two leading rebounders both stand 6-foot-5, a welcome advantage for the 6-foot-9 O’Bryant. The size edge does likely mean that O’Bryant will see a number of double teams when he catches the ball in the post. He’ll have to adjust to the double team and cleanly pass the ball out.
O’Bryant is averaging almost four turnovers per game over the last seven games.
The man trying to force those for the Tigers is Hickey who leads the conference in swipes with 3.4 per game. Teams have played a game of “keep away” from the Tiger point man after he garnered a reputation as a ball hawk early in the season.
South Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington is one of the few in the league who can match Hickey’s quickness, foot speed and athleticism. In the earlier meeting, Hickey had just two steals in 35 minutes.
It wasn’t Ellington that plagued the Tigers in Baton Rouge, though. It was freshman Michael Carrera.
Coming off the bench, Carrera dropped 23 points, 10 in the overtime period, and corralled 10 rebounds.
“I think (Michael) Carrera kind of had his coming out party,” Jones said. “He played well against us here, and I think he’s continued to improve after that. He’s really kind of become the leader of their team.”
LSU will have to imitate Carrera’s performance this time around by making plays down the stretch to win.
“Obviously we let (Carrera) do more than we expected him to do,” Stringer said. “He made a lot of hustle plays. That was the big thing in the game. We didn’t make the hustle plays. They made the plays late in the game, and we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
The tip off Thursday night is set for 6 pm central time and will be televised nationally by ESPN2.