After missing the first 10 games of the season due to eligibility reasons, Jalen Cook has been one of LSU’s most important players since returning.
However, head coach Matt McMahon decided not to start him in the Tiger’s 95-74 win over Arkansas.
Instead, McMahon opted to give senior Trae Hannibal his first start of the year. It was the first game that Cook hasn’t started since he made his season debut with 15:12 left in the first half of LSU’s 96-85 loss to Texas.
“I thought we needed a change and really that’s all there is to it,”
McMahon said. “Everyone gets so concerned with who starts, who does this, who does that. The ultimate goal is just for us to find ways to win and for each player to perform at their very best. So sometimes a change, whether that’s coming off the bench to where you get to see what’s happening on the floor, helps you refocus.”
Cook and LSU certainly seemed to benefit from the decision by McMahon. Cook shot an efficient 62.5% from the field and went 7 for 7 from the free throw line on his way to scoring 20 points and helping LSU break out of its three-game losing streak.
It was the third game this season where Cook scored at least 20 points, but he did it in far less shots against Arkansas. He needed 17 shots and 35 minutes to score 21 points against Georgia and 19 shots in 29 minutes to score 28 against Vanderbilt. He took just eight shots and needed just 21 minutes to reach the 20-point mark this weekend.
He also had just one turnover against the Razorbacks. In his previous 20-point performances, he had three turnovers against Vanderbilt and four against Georgia.
“I thought [Cook] and Trae Hannibal at the point were terrific,” McMahon said. “Trae, four assists, no turnovers. I though Jaylen was just really dialed in offensively. Shot the ball really well, did a great job getting to the free throw line. All in all, I thought great point guard play.”
LSU’s 95 points were the third most of the season for the Tigers and the most they have scored in SEC play. LSU also racked up 17 assists as a team, the fourth most of the season for the Tigers. LSU’s only games with more assists came against Lamar, Mississippi Valley State and Northwestern State.
LSU as a whole shot 54.7% from the field against Arkansas. In its three-game losing streak, LSU shot a combined 41% from the field. LSU also shot 52.2% from three this weekend compared to its 38% during the losing streak.
“I thought our efficiency was really good because of the unselfish play,” McMahon said.
Hannibal seemed to get a boost from the start as he recorded his second most assists of the season with four and had zero turnovers. He also went a perfect 2 for 2 from the field and the free throw line to score six points.
“[Hannibal’s] speed, his toughness, his physicality impacts both sides of the ball,” McMahon said. “I thought he did a nice job defensively. He got six defensive rebounds which has been an area we’re working to improve. I though he really had a huge impact on winning.”
LSU will look to carry over the improved play into its next game. It faces a difficult road test against No. 6 Tennessee. It’s currently the highest ranked SEC school and is coming off a big win over No. 17 Kentucky. Three of its five losses have come against ranked teams, including games against No. 4 Kansas and No. 2 Purdue.
That game will start at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.