By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Unlike most who return from the Bahamas, LSU is not feeling particularly well rested, heading into Tuesday’s 8 p.m. home tipoff vs. Houston.
Restless, is more like it.
Going 1-2 in a three day span will do that to a team, but after a first-round 82-47 loss to KenPom No. 19 Wichita State, the Tigers felt good about their effort level in splitting decisions against Old Dominion (66-60 win) and VCU (85-74 loss) to end their trip.
“When you play experienced teams like that, teams with really good tradition and players, it was really good for our team,” said LSU head coach Johnny Jones. “We wanted to get an early sense of where we were. It’s helped as a measuring stick.”
The measuring stick was a tall one. After entering the tournament with a strength of schedule ranking in the 300s, LSU took on three top-100 foes, including two likely NCAA Tournament teams in the two teams that beat them.
“Every team there could possibly be playing in March,” Jalyn Patterson said. “The competition level was great.”
LSU’s biggest takeway? The need to come out energetically every game. Against Wichita State, they didn’t, and fell behind by 46-19 at the half. But the rest of their stay was far more competitive, a sign the Tigers are taking as a positive.
It was just a learning experience,” said Antonio Blakeney, who averaged just 10.0 points per game in the tournament. “Bad effort and energy in the first game, but coming out those next two games, we played harder.”
Effort wasn’t the issue in the final two-and-a-half games in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Shooting, however, was. LSU shot a combined 62-for-154 (40.3 percent) from the floor in the final 100 minutes of play, and just 9-for-39 (23.1 percent) from 3-point land. On the season, LSU ranks just 292nd nationally in 3-point percentage (30.0), despite the presence of capable long-range marksmen like Blakeney, Brandon Sampson, and Jalyn Patterson.
“We’ve got guys who are good, very capable shooters,” said Jones. “We just got to make sure we’re getting the right shots for them.”
For Blakeney, who shot just 2-of-14 from deep in the tournament, it’s about shooting out of the slump with better selection.
“Just keep shooting,” he said. “Honestly, we just have to see the shots you’re taking, trying to get good shots in the offense. Sometimes looks aren’t there and we’re just trying to take them.”
SCOUTING REPORT: Houston
LSU will look to avenge a 105-98 overtime loss to the Cougars in Houston a year ago. LSU was without both Craig Victor and Patterson in that game. Victor struggled in the Bahamas, managing just 17 points total in the three games after sitting LSU’s first three due to a suspension. Jones is confident his junior forward will find form against the Cougars.
He’ll be a difference maker for us,” said Jones. “He’s good defending the paint area, and he’s more of a force offensively. When you have that type of layoff, to put him in the environment we did, he didn’t have a warmup game. He was thrown straight in the fire. It was a little bit tough, but we think those three games helped him.”
Jones will need Victor at his best. Houston is loaded offensively, inside and out. The tandem of guard Rob Gray (18.8 points per game) and forward Chicken Knowles (12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds per game) hurt LSU last year, to the tune of 51 combined points.
The Tigers will especially need to defend the three-point line. Houston ranks third in the nation from deep at 45.7 percent. Five players shoot 39 percent or better from beyond the arc.
“A lot of similarities,” Jones said of this year’s Houston team vs. last year’s. “Just more experienced. A lot of the guys who hurt us last year are back.”
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