Jordan Mickey has noticed a phenomenon as he barrels toward the paint after a jump shot ricochets of the rim.
Often, a brawny dude in a different colored jersey tends to throw a chiseled torso into the LSU forward’s path.
No, it’s not a full-on box out or bruise-inducing tussle. Doesn’t mean the ploy fails, though.
“They’re just trying to slow me down enough or keep me out of the area,” Mickey said Monday.
The problem for LSU, though, is that Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant III’s reputation for wiping the glass leaves guards flat-footed.
Over the past month, the tendency to gawk is a bugaboo the Tigers (9-3) need to kick with Tennessee (8-4), which arrives at 6 p.m. Tuesday, bringing its own rebound-shagging duo of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Getting bludgeoned on the backboards is a symptom of the Tigers’ larger issue of slipping focus and early sluggishness.
On Saturday, the nettlesome habit cost LSU in a 74-70 upset at the hands of Rhode Island, which racked up a plus-14 rebound margin fueled by a 16-11 edge on the offensive glass.
So woeful was the effort that O’Bryant, who averages 7.5 rebounds a game, failed to notch his first until a little under eight minutes were left to play.
And Mickey? A paltry four. Of the slim total, just two were on the offensive side of the ledger.
Worse, their backcourt peers were little help.
“Unfortunately for us, we had a bunch of spectators Saturday,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “Anytime you have guys that are as dominant on the boards, a lot of time guys will spectate and are not as aggressive in terms of going to the glass.”
That’s not a recent development. Over the past month, LSU’s rebounding margin is minus-3.3. In close games and Saturday, LSU’s guards struggled to chip in by rebounding outside their area.
“Coaches are starting to put all the pressure on Johnny and Jordan,” guard Anthony Hickey said. “That’s something we’ve got to help them do. We’ve seen it happen, now we’ve got to do something about it.”
Against Butler, the Tigers were outrebouned by 12, while Hickey, Andre Stringer and Tim Quarterman mustered up just four rebounds.
At Texas Tech, LSU’s backcourt notched just four rebounds. Falling to the Rams, it was the inability keep bigger Rams guards E.C. Matthews and Xavier Munford from corralling missed jumpers and 50-50 balls as the pair amassed 15 rebounds.
“I really don’t think it has anything to do with size,” swingman Shavon Coleman said. “I think it’s just a mental thing, and it’s something you need to box your man out and keep them off the glass.”
A similar mentality simply won’t do against the Volunteers, Jones said.
“People relax,” he said. “They block their man out, but they haven’t gone and possessed the ball. Then we’ve gotten beat by someone else.”
Emblematic of coach Cuonzo Martin’s blue-collar persona, Tennessee is third in the Southeastern Conference, snagging 39.4 rebounds per game and 8.5 more than foes. The Vols snap up 42.5 percent of their own misses, too — a rate that is fifth nationally, according to Kenneth Pomeroy’s advanced statistical analysis.
Stokes and Maymon, obviously, supply them in bulk. They combine for 17.4 rebounds a game and are tied for the SEC lead by yanking down nearly four offensive boards per game.
“They really grab the ball and hold on to it tight,” O’Bryant said. “Playing against Stokes last year, I really noticed that he does a great job of going and getting the ball. He’s not down there watching it come to him. He just goes and gets it.”
Maymon, a 6-8, 240-pound senior, missed last season with a knee injury, but he’s still able.
The result? The Vols big men have 43 putbacks this season — exactly 20 percent of their shots — and are shooting a staggering 69.4 percent on those attempts, according to hoop-math.com.
The profile is the same for Mickey (7.8 rpg) and O’Bryant (7.5 rpg) for the Tigers, who are fifth in the SEC with a plus-5.2 edge on the glass and 28th nationally with a 37.2 rebound percentage.
Slashing supply is more detrimental to Mickey, who relies on misses to get a portion of his 13.9 points per game. He leads LSU with 16 putbacks, which account for nearly 23.5 percent of his made buckets and help him shoot 78.5 percent around the rim, according to hoop-math.com.
The sticking point is what Rhode Island did Saturday by striking Mickey before he got a full head of steam — a grudging affirmation that the freshman now occupies a more prominent role in opposing scouting reports.
“You’re talking about a freshman, and what he does is adjust to what teams start to do to him,” Martin said. “If you watched him throughout high school, you understand that. He makes the adjustments as he goes. But there’s a target on his back.”
Mickey, albeit quietly, knows the remedy.
He knows that a jump shot from Stringer arcs on a higher trajectory, and its spin means it bounces straight up. A 3-pointer launched by Hickey tends to sail long. No longer can he rely solely on athleticism.
And the twinge of his first step has to be faster to avoid human road blocks to the rim.
“I’m letting guys box me out too much,” Mickey said. “It’s something I’ve got to stop doing.”