LSU hoops rolling with SEC play on tap
For the first week of the season, it looked like it’d be a long year for the LSU basketball team.
Close losses to inferior competition, blowing big leads and turnovers by the dozen, all commonplace, the same things that plagued the team for the past two seasons under fourth-year coach Trent Johnson.
But somewhere along the line, things changed and LSU is proving to its critics to never judge a book by its cover.
The Tigers have rebounded from their 1-2 start to the year and have currently won eight of their past nine games.
That run was topped by an eye-opening 67-59 upset of then-ranked No. 10 Marquette, the biggest win for LSU basketball since 2008-09 and proof that this year’s team is no longer the SEC doormat of the two years past.
“This game shows us that the work we’ve put in and our dedication and commitment that we have to each other and on our defense pays off,” senior forward Storm Warren said. “Our confidence has been up.”
Warren mentioned LSU’s defensive commitment. That’s not a coincidence, that’s arguably the biggest source of the team’s turnaround.
The Tigers allowed 70 or more points in each of their first three games, allowing 77 points per game in those three contests (two were losses).
But in the eight games since the season’s opening week, the Tigers have allowed 70 points just once (a game that went to overtime) and have allowed just 57 points per game.
Against Marquette, that defense was on full display, as LSU limited the powerful Golden Eagles to just 59 points, 36 percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers to just 7 assists.
“I thought from a standpoint defensively we were as good as we have been all year,” a boastful Trent Johnson said following the win. “And I thought we needed to be good.”
The reason Johnson said LSU “needed to be good” was because of Marquette’s high-powered offense.
The Golden Eagles boasted one of the best one-two punch tandems in the country in guard Darius Johnson-Odom and forward Jae Crowder.
The Tigers held both players at their scoring averages in the win and completely took away the other Golden Eagles to stymie their offense.
“John Isaac was guarding probably one of the better guards in the country in terms of being able to get his own shot,” Johnson said in regards to Johnson-Odom. “And yeah he shot a decent percentage, but he had to work for every shot he got.”
“That’s one thing we base our pride on,” Warren added. “Our defense is going to compete from beginning to end.”
Defense aside, the LSU basketball team also has something else on its side, momentum.
For the first time since the team’s 2008-09 NCAA Tournament run, fan interest is up in Baton Rouge.
Against Marquette, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center wasn’t at full capacity.
But those in attendance made sure the Golden Eagles’ stay wasn’t pleasant.
That helped push the team through several tough spots in the game, especially early when the Golden Eagles opened the game on a 13-0 run.
“I thought our fans were absolutely great and got really loud,” Johnson said. “There were some times when we needed every inch of their help.”
Freshman guard Anthony Hickey took the coach’s sentiments a step further and said the 8,630-person crowd was reminiscent of a group that would have gathered across the street in LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
“The fans, they were just … wow,” Hickey said. “It was like a football game. At Christmas break, for them to come back, it was a great thing. The support from the fans will help to build the PMAC back up.”
Building both the program and the PMAC back up is the goal, but to get that accomplished will not exactly be an easy feat.
LSU’s upcoming schedule will feature nationally ranked Virginia, as well as both Ole Miss and Alabama, both teams who are predicted to fare well in SEC play.
Later in the conference slate, the Tigers will also tackle national powers Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
But LSU is playing good basketball and has to be considered among those vying for a high seed in March’s SEC Tournament.
Just don’t let Johnson hear such thoughts, he’s focused on keeping his team moving in the right direction, adding in traditional coach speak that the Marquette win counts as just one toward the team’s position in the standings.
“I don’t want to take away from the guys’ excitement and enjoyment, but it is one win,” Johnson said. “Like I told them going into the game, regardless of what happens, there is still a lot of basketball that needs to be played. The bottom line for us is to go out and play like we are capable of playing, take care of the ball and just have some fun.”
Fun or not, win or loss, it no longer looks like it’ll be a long season for the LSU basketball team.
AT A GLANCE:
LSU’S UPCOMING GAMES
Dec. 29 vs. Grambling St. 6 p.m.
Jan. 2 vs. Virginia 6 p.m.
Jan. 7 vs. Mississippi 12:30 p.m.
Jan. 11 @ Alabama 8 p.m.
Jan. 14 @ Arkansas 8 p.m.
Jan. 17 vs. Auburn 6 p.m.
Jan. 21 @ Florida 5 p.m.
Jan. 25 @ Mississippi St. 7 p.m.
Jan. 28 vs. Kentucky 3 p.m.