The trash talk aimed at Antonio Blakeney came early and often Tuesday night.
It started in warm ups. It carried over into the first half. It manifested itself in the form of a second half technical foul on North Carolina Central guard Patrick Cole.
In the end, though, Blakeney had the last word, scoring 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting to lead LSU past NCCU, 70-66.
“He called me trash,” said Blakeney, who scored 18 after halftime. “You saw what happened to him. Turned me up.”
The Tigers (6-2) needed every bit of Blakeney’s will in the win, trailing by as much as 13 in the first half against the hot-shooting Eagles. But the Tigers turned up their defense in the second half, and with a 69-66 lead, Brandon Sampson blocked Cole’s game-tying three-point attempt with 12 seconds left and forced him into a travel with 10 seconds left, sinking a free throw to ice the win.
Cole finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds, 10 turnovers and 9 assists for North Carolina Central (6-5) in the loss.
“Just trying to stay locked in,” said Sampson, who added 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting, knocking down a pair of triples. “Coach said no 3s, so I was just just trying to stay down and play.”
Johnny Jones praised his sophomore wing’s defensive play in the game’s final seconds, and asked for more from him at the start of future contests.
“I thought Brandon did an excellent job of making two huge plays for us down the stretch to end the game for us,” said Jones. “He has that type of ability. We’ve got to put him in situations in the beginning of the game, getting that type of energy and effort from him from the start, being a tone-setter. We know he’s capable of giving that.”
No Tiger could’ve been too proud of his first half defense. LSU surrendered 27 points in the game’s first 6:36 and trailed by as much as 13 with 6:12 left in the first half on a layup good for two of Dajuan Graf’s 18 points. Duop Reath scored 12 of his 14 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting in the first half to keep LSU within striking distance at halftime, 43-36.
The Tigers chalked up their slow start to a 14-day layoff.
“We were a little rusty,” said Sampson. “We knew when we got back out there, things weren’t going to be clicking on all cylinders. “We just had to dig in and try to get stops.”
Those stops came in the second half. After surrendering 61.3 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from deep in the first half, LSU held the Eagles to 29.6 percent and 16.7 percent, respectively, outscoring the visitors 34-23 in the second half.
On the other end, Blakeney took over. He scored 13 points in the first seven minutes of the second half, with his three-pointer at the 12:40 and a Craig Victor (8 points, 11 rebounds) putback seconds later culminating a 21-9 run to give the Tigers’ their first lead since the game’s opening seconds. His 18 second half points — more than any other Tiger scored all game — came on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor and 3-of-4 from behind the arc.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” said Blakeney, who teammates making great plays with the ball, drawing the defense. They were kicking it to me, and I was just trying to knock shots down.”
“For him to come back off a 14 day break and play that way, execute offensively the way he did, says a lot about him,” added Jones. “We needed it tonight.”
ODDS AND ENDS
- LSU got just two bench points, but Jones was pleased with his subs’ performance. He singled out Kieran Hayward and Jalyn Patterson for their defensive contributions. Hayward was +5 in just 8 minutes, while Patterson was +13 in 17, adding 5 assists off the pine.
- Jones said Patterson was battling an illness that looked to sideline him for the second half, but he played through it.
- Junior guard Branden Jenkins, who has been out all season with a knee injury, participated in warm ups and looked close to full speed. Jones hopes he will be back around Christmas.
- Antonio Blakeney now has 13 career games with 20 or more points. His 27 points tonight were a season high.