As Jordan Mickey’s feet returned to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center floor, the LSU freshman had plenty of options to express his joy during the Tigers’ 61-54 victory over Louisiana-Monroe.
In just 12 seconds Saturday night, the forward tracked down ULM guard Tylor Ongwae on a fast break and swatted a soft layup attempt off the glass.
Trailing up the floor, he darted down the lane as Johnny O’Bryant III whipped a pass out of a double team to his frontcourt mate. The ending was obvious: Mickey mashing the ball through the rim.
So how did he respond? A blank stare and a quick pivot before slowly trotting back up the floor.
But LSU (6-2) won’t quibble after Mickey piled up a career-high 25 points and helped spur a vital 15-2 run in the opening six minutes of the second half to subdue ULM (3-2) in front of an announced 7,623.
“I try to keep the same mood and not show any emotion out on the court,” said Mickey, who was 9-of-13 from the floor. “Just so people don’t know what I’m thinking or if I’m frustrated.”
Bland as that might be, LSU (6-2) quibbled little with his production against ULM, which used the Tigers’ sluggishness after a 13-day layoff to trail by only five points at halftime.
Barely a month into the season, Mickey is a vital offensive cog. In eight games, he has become the first freshman since Shaquille O’Neal to score in double figures every time out. Yet coach Johnny Jones dropped a startling revelation about Mickey’s night.
“We didn’t call one single play for him,” he said.
That’s right. On a night when O’Bryant struggled to four points and five rebounds, Mickey made his bones on second-chance plays and by benefiting from double teams swarming O’Bryant.
It was the foundation of LSU’s decisive burst, too.
First, Mickey put down a dunk off a miss by O’Bryant to open the second half. He followed it up with another two-handed finish a trip later off an errant Shavon Coleman jumper. And he almost had another on a lob from Anthony Hickey but earned them from the line after getting fouled.
“He’s a very poised person,” Hickey said. “It’s the same face you see every day. Even when he’s down, you don’t know it.”
The box score is confirmation. On a squad among the nation’s best on the offensive glass, four of Mickey’s nine rebounds generated second possessions. And he continued to flesh out his role as one of the SEC’s elite rim protectors with five more blocks.
“It’s hustle stats,” Jones said. “It wasn’t anything that we called for him. It’s because he tries to put himself in and the way he’s focused.”
It made up for LSU’s lack of focus early.
Again, the Tigers followed the same template that has nagged them at home against nonconference foes.
They bolted to an early 12-2 lead on a run capped by a 3-pointer from Andre Stringer, who added 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. They knocked down eight of their first 12 shots and led 19-12 with a little over 11 minutes left in the first half.
And then the bugaboos that nagged them during the Old Spice Classic reappeared.
The Tigers, who shot 43.4 percent, stalled over a five-minute scoring drought, one marked by five turnovers and an 8-1 run from ULM. With 7:01 left until halftime, Daniel Grieves buried a 3 from the right wing for a 22-20 ULM lead.
Warhawks center Marvin Williams led the way with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Ongwae added 12 points, and Amos Olatayo chipped in 10.
Outside of Mickey and Stringer, no other LSU player notched more than six points.
“There would be times when we’re kind of sluggish,” Hickey said. ‘There’s always the second half where you need to bring it and turn it up before the other team do. We were able to make our punch early.”
LSU responded with a 10-2 burst for a six-point lead with a little under five minutes to go in the first half, but the Tigers trotted up the tunnel with just a 31-26 advantage.
“I didn’t think we were playing with a sense of urgency,” Jones said. “I didn’t expect us to be sharp or crisp because of the layoff, but the sense of the urgency you have to play with night in and night out wasn’t there with out team.”
The outlier was Mickey. And his role as the catalyst fit perfectly out of the locker room. None of his plays was glamorous. They were the product of his motor humming consistently.
Trotting back on defense, Mickey doesn’t even think about the celebrations he could put on display.
“I don’t think it’s tough,” Stringer said, “for a guy like him.”