By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Antonio Blakeney’s recipe for success at this week’s SEC Tournament?
The sophomore guard’s last trip to Nashville was less than memorable. Nearly painful as the Tigers’ 71-38 defeat in the semifinals against Texas A&M was the illness Blakeney played through in two games.
All from a pregame meal the night before his tournament debut.
“It messed me up,” said Blakeney, who managed 22 points in game one against Tennessee before illness limited him to six points in the A&M loss.
This year, Blakeney’s hoping to leave town with a better taste in his mouth.
LSU (10-20, 2-16 SEC) opens the 2017 tournament against Mississippi State at 6 p.m. on Wednesday – two days earlier than its accustomed to tipping off postseason play. After back-to-back seasons as a top-four seed with a double-bye, the Tigers are seeded 13th in this year’s affair, meaning they’ll need five wins in five days to pull off an improbable tournament title.
“It’s a new season for us,” said Blakeney, LSU’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. “It’s March. Anything can happen. That’s why they call it March Madness. We’re just going like we are a new team.”
The Tigers’ long and unlikely road begins with a Bulldog team its lost to twice, most recently on Saturday in Starkville. LSU hopes getting to play an opponent in back-t0-back games will help make the third time the charm.
“Back to back helps because you’re just coming off of a scouting report and you just finished playing them,” said LSU head coach Johnny Jones. “We feel like we have got more things to correct than they do and we hope we can make those corrections and that it’ll be beneficial to us and take away some of the positive things that they do.”
LSU actually outscored State in each game’s second half, but not by enough to overcome slow starts.
“We have to go out there in the first half and give that second half that effort,” said Blakeney, who picked up Second Team All-SEC honors this week. “Even if you have to think like it’s the second half, do whatever it takes to play that way.”
The Tigers will also have to play under the specter of Jones’ looming firing, widely reported on Tuesday from outlets like NOLA.com, ESPN, and CBS.
“I’m not selfish enough to even think along those lines,” Jones said of his job security on Monday before the team’s departure. “I’ve got a basketball game to get ready for and some kids that’s trying to win their next game and a staff that’s really preparing. That’s what our focus and concentration is on.”