By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Despite pouring in 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, Antonio Blakeney didn’t have any fun in LSU’s 110-76 loss to Wake Forest last week. The 67 points the Tigers (8-3) gave up in the second half forebode a particularly awful practice upon the team’s return from Christmas break.
That’s why he made sure to bring the energy – and a little positivity – to the first gathering after LSU’s worst defeat of the season.
“My main thing was to go in there and not think about the last game,” the sophomore guard said. “I was just trying to have fun and bring energy. I didn’t want to be in practice down, like, ‘We lost. What’s coach thinking?’ I just told everybody, ‘Let’s have fun.’”
LSU’s third loss of the season was far from enjoyable. The Tigers gave up 110 points, and the 67 after the break tied for the fourth-most any LSU defense has allowed in a half of basketball. Wake Forest shot 73.5% from the floor, 78.7% from the 3-point line, and never trailed on the night, but the number that stood out to Johnny Jones most concerned his own players.
“Sometimes you can look at a foul count and see how aggressive your team is playing,” Jones said. “We had some guys that only had one or two fouls that game playing maximum minutes. We’ve got to get better at showing resistance out there on the floor and competing at a certain level every second, every play.”
Blakeney took the defensive miscues upon himself and his backcourt mates. Many of Wake’s makes were uncontested, and the league’s fifth-leading scorer said it all started with a lack of initial pressure. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]
“We’ve got to get better at showing resistance out there on the floor and competing at a certain level every second, every play.”
“They got comfortable on us,” said Blakeney. “Any team that shoots 70% from the field is obviously comfortable with what they’re doing offensively. We didn’t make them uncomfortable. We didn’t make them get out of their stuff. They ran their simple plays, knock down shots just like they were in 5-on-0 offense.
“You’ve got to put pressure on them. It starts at the top, it starts with the guards – me and (Brandon) Sampson.”
Sampson, too, took the defeat to heart. He scored only eight points in 22 minutes, snapping a four-game streak of double-figure scoring. But it was his play on the other end against Wake that bothered him over the break.
“Scoring the ball, that’s not one of my biggest things right now,” said the sophomore wing, who’s averaging 12.1 points per game on the year. “I can score the ball. Everyone that gotten here in college can score the ball. I just got to keep myself between my man and the basket.
I’ve been giving the person completely wrong angles. I’ve got to correct things like that.”
It’s not just on the ball where LSU’s defense went wrong against the Demon Deacons, who are, to their credit, among the nation’s most efficient offenses. The second and third line of the defense was often late in rotating – and sometimes never rotated at all. The back line did little to protect the rim, even though most of the damage was done from the outside. And when the bigs had to chase 6-foot-11 forward Dinos Mitoglou to the perimeter, they were too slow, allowing the long-range bomber to hit 8-of-11 from beyond the arc – four in each half.
“We didn’t defend the on ball as well as we should have, and our rotations weren’t good,” said Duop Reath. “All of their shots were open shots.”
LSU hopes to correct those mistakes in the SEC opener – Jones calls SEC play LSU’s “second season” – against Vanderbilt on Thursday. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. in the PMAC, and the game will be televised on ESPNU.
The Commodores (5-6) have struggled under first-year head coach Bryce Drew, who was born in Baton Rouge, where his father, Homer, was an assistant under former LSU head coach Dale Brown. They do most of their damage from deep, shooting a league-best 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. Junior Matthew Fisher-Davis leads the charge with 15.8 points per game on 42.3% 3-point shooting, while marksman Riley Lachance is a remarkable 24-for-40 (60%) from deep this season.
“They have known shooters,” said Jones. “They’ve got good balance.”
For LSU, it’s the perfect chance to get back on track defensively – and have a little fun in the mean time.
“We’ve really picked it up in practice on the defensive end,” said freshman point guard Skylar Mays. “We know letting 60 points in the second half, that’s not going to cut it. We have to be excited about defending. We have our spurts, but we have to consistently be excited about defending.”
- The two teams rank 13th and 14th in the league in scoring margin (Vanderbilt, +2.6; LSU, +1.3).
- Lachance isn’t just a shooter. He also leads the league in assist to turnover ratio, with 52 dimes to just 16 TOs on the season.
- LSU finished the non-conference schedule 7-0 at home. The Tigers averaged 80.6 points per game and gave up just 68.0 in the PMAC during those seven wins.
- Both Branden Jenkins (knee) and Aaron Epps (ankle) should be available for LSU on Thursday. Jenkins has yet to play this year after undergoing a preseason procedure on his left knee. Epps sprained his ankle against Charleston and didn’t play against Wake Forest.