Tigers alternate moments of brilliance with spots of folly
Anthony Hickey nudged the ball away, and on the break tried to ball up LSU’s fist.
A pesky UNO squad lingered, and when the LSU point guard floated a lob toward an airborne Jordan Mickey at the rim, it seemed the perfect punch.
Mickey obliged, snagging the ball and laying it off the glass and drawing a foul against UNO’s Matt Derenbecker. But what followed summed up LSU’s night in an 81-54 victory at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
An overeager John Odo ducked into the lane early. A lane violation, and the Tigers trudging up the floor ahead by 14 points.
For every peerless moment, there was a smattering of folly for LSU (2-1) against the Privateers (1-1) in front of 7,513 fans Tuesday night.
“We have got to do a better job of understanding the sense of urgency you have to play with,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “You don’t want to be that ‘did you see team.’ You know, ‘did you see the score last night where LSU got upset?’ ”
Again, LSU let a Southland Conference foe from down the road linger.
Sure, Andre Stringer added 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting, while Mickey added 16 points and 11 rebounds to go with Shavon Coleman’s 14 off the bench. True, LSU mauled UNO on the boards for a 56-38 margin and turned 19 turnovers into 24 points.
Once again, coach Jones’ squad, which shot just 39.0 percent from the floor, settled for jumpers and fumbled for a rhythm against a mix of zone and soft man defense and turned it over 13 times.
“The score doesn’t really indicate how we played,” Stringer said. “It was a closer game than it turned out to be. We’re not satisfied with how we played. We’re upset.”
And for a second game in a row, LSU fell into a malaise over the latter stages of the first half.
After Coleman slashed to the rim for a reverse layup and a 22-11 lead, LSU would go more than seven minutes without a field goal. Of the 11 consecutive shots it clanked, nine were jumpers, all but abandoning a strategy to punch the ball inside to Mickey and O’Bryant.
“It’s about grinding,” Jones said. “You’ve got to be tougher than the other team. You’ve got make sure your offense dominates their defense. You can’t settle. What we’re doing is settling right now.”
Throwing a mix of zone and soft man at the Tigers might explain the issue, with LSU frontcourt tandem covered up and struggling through a forest of limbs and torsos to the rim. O’Bryant finished with just nine points and nine rebounds, and earned a strong critique from Jones.
“Every night he’s got to be dominant and try to dominate the person across from us,” Jones said. “It’s important that you have that mentality. If not, the team that you’re playing is on a mission, and trying to dominate you.”
As LSU wallowed, UNO, which shot 31.3 percent, ticked off a 6-0 spurt to close within 22-17 at the 7:07 mark. The Privateers proved they were no longer a theoretical threat, too, in the waning minute of the half.
Cory Dixon, who led UNO with 18 points, pump-faked and got an eager Mickey springing off the floor, with the senior timing his jump for a collision. Flipping the ball of the glass and in, Dixon converted a three-point play to pare LSU’s lead to a narrow 32-28 with 61 seconds until the break.
A minute later, the Tigers slowly jogged up the ramp. UNO ran.
Mickey tried to supply amps in the first minute out of the locker room after halftime, though.
Mashing down a dunk just 11 seconds, he then stole the ball at the other end and pushed on the break before a Tradarrius McPhearson foul put him on the line for two free throws.
“He’s making plays, and it’s not necessarily things we call for him,” Jones said. “He’s been that guy that’s focused three games for us.”
Next, guard Hickey pilfered the ball and tapped it ahead to Stringer on the break for a layup and a 38-31 lead with 19:18 to play.
“We were really trying to come out with a high level of intensity,” UNO coach Mark Slessinger said. “They came out and got a quick 6-0 run. We never recovered.”
Stringer, who missed six of eight shots in the first half, then reeled off nine points over the next three minutes — all behind the arc — to push the lead out to 47-26 with 17:26 remaining.
“It’s a big momentum changer when he hits a 3,” Mickey said. “They have to go out there and guard him. They can’t just sit down in the post and double.”
But it wasn’t until the final four minutes, after a Coleman lay-up capped a 14-2 run to take a 71-57, lead that LSU rustled the PMAC to life.
And even then, it took freshman forward Darcy Malone bowing up after a block with three minutes to go to get crowd stirring.
“They was hanging with us toward the beginning,” Hickey said.
“But basketball goes both ways. We didn’t take care of our business at the beginning. Second half, we came out and made our punch.”