Jalen Cook pours in season-high 28 points and LSU gets physical again as Tigers down Vandy to remain unbeaten in SEC play

Jalen Cook vs Vanderbilt
Jalen Cook heated up his scoring Tuesday night and LSU played its tough, physical brand of ball again as it moved to 2-0 in the SEC with a now huge early-season showdown against Auburn looming on the plains on Saturday. PHOTO by MIchael Bacigalupi

Unmatched effort – check.

Relentless physicality – check.

Unmatched energy – check.

Jalen Cook and his season-high 28 points – check.

LSU checked all the boxes Tuesday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly, reassumed its new-found identity and once again played gritty and tough for 40 minutes.

It’s apparently becoming a thing, how this LSU team rolls.

And, make no mistake about it, these cats are rolling.

Rocking and rolling, to be exact. Not to mention playing tougher, more physical, and smarter ball than its opponents.

It’s translating into two things: fun basketball to watch and wins.

Three short days after pulling off its biggest win of Coach Matt McMahon’s era with a 13-point SEC season-opening upset of Texas A&M on the road at College Station where McMahon said “we emptied our tank physically,” the Tigers reassumed their new-found identity and went right back to work, duplicated the effort, and found another, albeit similar, way to win.

LSU gritted and muscled it way past Vanderbilt, 77-69, on Tuesday night, moved to 2-0 in the SEC for the first time in four years, and now finds itself heading to No. 16 Auburn on Saturday for an early-season showdown of unbeatens in a crucial conference showdown.

LSU scored 44 points in the paint against Vanderbilt, played consistently scrapping and tough defense, forced 15 turnovers, including 11 steals and turned the turnovers it forced into 18 points.

Cook, in only his fifth game back in the lineup since having his eligibility restored by the NCAA, amped up his game to another level against the Commodores.

LSU’s floor general made 10 of 19 shots for the Tigers (10-5, 2-0 SEC), who have now won four in a row. Cook made all seven of his free throws. Meanwhile, Jordan Wright scored 15 points against his former team, while freshman Mike Williams III scored 10 with eight rebounds.

Ezra Manjon scored 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting to lead the Commodores (5-10, 0-2). Tyrin Lawrence and Ven-Allen Lubin each added 11 while Lawrence also had six rebounds. Jason Rivera-Torres and Evan Taylor both came off the bench to score  10 points each.

Manjon’s layup to pull Vanderbilt even at 28 with 2:12 left before halftime but Wright sunk two free throws 29 seconds later and LSU took a two-point lead into intermission after both teams went scoreless over the final 1:43.

Cook and Wright combined for nine points in an 11-4 run to open the second half and LSU opened its largest lead to that point of nine. Cook and Williams then had back-to-back three-point plays and LSU was up by 15 points, 49-34, with 14:10 left in the game.

LSU was still leading by 15 with seven minutes to go, but Rivera-Torres and Tasos Kamateros then each sank 3-pointers in a 10-2 Commodore run to pull within six points of the Tigers, 67-61, with 3:33 remaining.

However, LSU then made 6 of 8 free throws over the next 1:38 to go back up by 10.

Cook took over from there. He delivered with a three-point play and then he sunk two free throws to seal the victory for LSU.


LSU head coach Matt McMahon:

“Really proud of our players, we found a way to win. I thought our effort on the defensive side of the ball was terrific. We won the turnover battle. Obviously, I would have liked to have been a little more efficient on the offensive side of the basketball. Ultimately, the goal is to win. I thought our players on Saturday night emptied the tank, everything that we had from a toughness, an emotion, a passion standpoint. The goal was to get back, prepare Sunday and Monday, and find a way to win tonight. I am thrilled with our guys’ effort to get that done.”

On the growth and improvement of the defense …

“There have been some minor changes, but it is really all on the players and their ability to compete at a high level in practice. We had a lot of practice time, the way the schedule fell, and I thought our players maximized that time to get better. The areas that were really weaknesses for us early in the season, such as, defensive rebounding, defending the three-point line, and taking care of the basketball. The amount of growth and improvement there over the last month is really impressive from our players. They have gone from weaknesses to strengths. We still have a lot of work to do there, but by not turning the ball over as much, we give ourselves a chance offensively. Limiting the opponent’s second chance points and taking away the three-point line have been a good formula for us to keep improving as a team.”

On the increase of rebounds …

“I think there is some technique there through drill work and practice, but the majority is the beauty of rebounding. I think it was the late, great Skip Prosser (former Wake Forest Men’s Basketball Head Coach) that always talked about the rebounds being addressed to ‘whom it may concern’. I think those rebounds have been of more concern to our players, their effort to chase them, and the physicality of the glass. We were not as good on the offensive glass tonight as we were Saturday, but the defensive rebounding was really strong.”

Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse:

“Towards the end of the game we had some opportunities in a two- or three-possession game. But I did feel like we shot ourselves in the foot early in the game. Our turnovers gave them too many easy points. Our carelessness is not taking care of the ball in transition. Our bad offense led to some break outs for them and I thought we played good defense, got in transition. We talk about not making cross-court passes and for whatever reason we don’t practice it and we don’t do it. And we just get in the game and for whatever reason we get sped up and we make plays that we aren’t taught to make. We’ve got to improve in those areas. That’s where the game is and I thought we had opportunities and some looks that we were capable of making that we didn’t make. I thought for the most part what we gave them without them having to earn it was the difference in the game.”

Guard Jalen Cook

On the difference between the first and second halves…

“I was trying to turn the energy up early. Against Texas A&M we got off to a good start, so I was trying to carry that over to tonight.”

On the focus of the second half …

“Just knowing the work we put in, the rim feels wide open at times. We are just trying to get a win and make a statement. It was good for us to attack the rim and play inside out.”

Guard Jordan Wright

On setting the tone for SEC conference play…

“We know how important it is to build momentum in this league. After the game against Texas A&M, we understood how vital road wins are and what they can do for this team. Getting off to a good start is a great way to build momentum and confidence and put the league on notice. We want to come out, play tough, and stack wins together.

On improving the teams’ perimeter defense…

“Early on in the season, we were soft defensively, but now, we are being a lot more physical, and that has impacted the shots these teams take; they are a lot more contested consistently. Shooting and being in a rhythm when guarding teams is much more challenging. Getting to their body quickly and being tough on screens have made a massive difference for our defense, and the percentages show that.

On playing his old team…

“I was there for four years. It was very important for me to get this win. It was definitely extra motivation to start off in conference, I have never done that in my career. If it was any other team, I would still love to go 2-0, but this one was definitely special for me.”

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Todd Horne

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