Harris: LSU happy playing its own style

BY MATTHEW HARRIS

Advocate sportswriter

Printed on the back of each LSU basketball ticket should be a disclaimer: Product may not work (exactly) as advertised.

Yet the caveat at least seems applicable to the Tigers, who after a one-point victory over Vanderbilt on Wednesday enter the backstretch of the Southeastern Conference schdule only a game shy of .500.

Professing a desire to press and run, coach Johnny Jones’ squad pulled the nose up on a free-falling 0-4 SEC start by grinding out possessions, working deep into shot clocks and relying on selective periods of thriving in the open floor.

As roughly 7,700 fans could likely attest, silently watching LSU misfire through a six-minute scoring drought rewards faith during a 16-0 run to close out a first half — a span where the Tigers hit 6 of 7 shots and spashed through all four 3-point attempts.

No coach likes scouring the recesses of his brain to justify a 30 percent shooting night — such as the one provided by Anthony Hickey, Andre Stringer and Johnny O’Bryant III — from his three most reliable scorers. Or getting beat on the glass 38-37. And allowing plodding edition of the Commodores to outscore LSU 14-9 in points off turnovers.

However, Jones’ solace rests in statement such as Hickey’s on Thursday.

“Just keep playing,” Hickey said.

“I tell ’Dre I’m going to keep swinging, and he was able to knock down a key (3-pointer) late. It’s just about keeping your head in the game.”

Resourceful might be a more apt descriptor.

LSU only ranks sixth in scoring (63.7 points per game) and is next-to last with a 39.1 field-goal percentage and a 64.5 percent mark at the free-throw line. Yet, they defend the 3-point line consistently, and generate enough extra possessions by forcing 14.4 turnovers — tied for third in the SEC — to lurk long enough to capitalize on stretches such as on Wednesday.

Appealing to watch? Far from it.

Ideal for a coach who would prefer a tempo more fluid than shifting gears in a cement mixer? Not really.

But Jones, who understands this season was tabbed as “transition” ahead of facing UC-Santa Barbara nearly three months ago, can accept incremental improvements alongside blemishes so long as the score tilts in LSU’s favor.

“We’re a lot further along than we were a few weeks back,” Jones said Thursday. “A sign of an improving team or a good team is when you don’t play your best but still have an opportunity to succeed or win. We were able to win without executing at a high level on the offensive end.”

Wooing fans back bored by former Trent Johnson’s trench warfare style of half-court style would be difficult now. Trudging back to a 7-5 record in the next week — feasible in the jumble of similarly flawed squads in the SEC — might prove just the enticement.

And LSU certainly seems fine with false advertising.

“We’re just going to keep playing our style of basketball,” Hickey said.