Cover boy Del Piero sparks LSU to victory

Program cover boy Del Piero sparks Tigers to victory

Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER --  LSU's Andre Stringer prepares to score against Mississippi Valley State's Darryl Marshall Saturday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- LSU's Andre Stringer prepares to score against Mississippi Valley State's Darryl Marshall Saturday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Andrew Del Piero’s face was featured on the cover of the program for Saturday night’s game against Mississippi Valley State.

Little did he know it was meant to be his night from the get-go.

In need of some life early in the contest, LSU received a surprising spark from the 7-foot-3 senior, who saw the most action of his career Saturday to help the Tigers to a 75-50 win against the Delta Devils in the PMAC.

Del Piero donned a tuba during his postgame television interview, but the former walk-on isn’t a novelty anymore. He had played a combined 16 minutes entering the game but was on the floor for 10 minutes in the first half alone and played 15 minutes on the night.

Instead of a program cover curse, he went 4-for-4 from the field, chalking up a career-high eight points to go with five rebounds and three blocks.

“That’s what I’ve been working towards this whole time,” Del Piero said. “These new coaches came in, and they have a lot of faith in me and because of that, I have a lot of confidence in myself. My teammates have confidence in me, and that’s helped pull me through. I’m just trying to get better every day with them.”

Even more than what the numbers say, it’s what the stat sheet didn’t show that may be the most impressive part of Del Piero’s performance. He had the tall task of going against MSVU’s 6-foot-11 center, Julius Francis, for much of the night.

Francis, who entered the game as one of the Delta Devils’ go-to big men, averaging 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds, scored the first three baskets of the game to give MVSU (0-4) a 6-1 lead. Del Piero then checked in and limited Francis to three points the rest of the night.

“(Del Piero) is tough to score over, and that hadn’t always been the case,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “I think he did a great job of keeping (Francis) centered and made the guy play over the top of him. When he didn’t block shots, he forced the guy to alter his shots. Not only that, he finished with good strong rebounds that allowed us to start our breaks well.”

Del Piero’s five boards were third best on the team, and an offensive showing that typically would be looked at as lagniappe ignited the Tigers (4-0) to a strong finish after a sloppy start.

It took more than four minutes for the first bucket of the game, which came from Francis, and both teams had a combined 14 turnovers by the first media timeout.

Del Piero entered the game at the 14:24 mark, and immediately the Tigers began clawing back with a 12-2 run over the next 41/2 minutes. LSU continued the push with another 8-2 run and led by as many as 13 before going into halftime with a 33-23 lead.

“We just started off slow,” said Shavon Coleman, who led the Tigers with 16 points and 11 rebounds. “We knew we had to pick it up. We all gathered up and talked about it, and we got the job done.”

LSU shot 42.3 percent in the first half but counteracted that by shooting 69.6 percent in the second. The Tigers never looked back from the lead they gained halfway through the first half, outscoring MVSU 42-27 in the second half en route to the 25-point victory.

“People were getting to the right spots, making good passes, squaring up and then shooting — just like how we practice every day,” said freshman guard Shane Hammink, who notched his first career start. “Eventually it’ll fall. We didn’t force anything, the shots came to us and we took advantage of them. We made them pay.”

The win came against an MVSU squad led by first-year coach Chico Potts, aformer LSU basketball player.

“When I first walked in the gym yesterday, it gave me chills,” said Potts, who played for LSU from 1997-98. “I thought about my days when I was playing, and suited up in the purple and gold. I was able to see a few people. It was definitely a warm feeling.”

Potts didn’t have quite the same thoughts about the turnout of the game but gave a positive outlook on the Tigers, who remain undefeated going into Thursday’s clash with Seton Hall.

“(LSU) is competitive,” Potts said. “They’ve got a heck of a team.

“They are going to be all right in the SEC.”