Guard steps up scoring to go with leadership
Anthony Hickey no longer lives in the margins.
Of the stat sheet doled out and parsed after each game, to be more specific.
LSU’s point guard isn’t phased by existing as the invisible hand steering the Tigers’ offense. Actually, Hickey seems so fond at being so adept at orchestrating the offense that a monthlong shooting slump didn’t leave him frustrated.
“I just ran the team a little bit,” Hickey said Monday.
Over the past two weeks, however, the junior managed to up his scoring as a jump-shooter while simultaneously growing more efficient at steering an LSU squad bolting in the open floor.
And the Tigers (15-7, 6-4 Southeastern Conference), who right now reside on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble, would love Hickey to continue the breakneck pace against Texas A&M at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
There’s no margin for error this week. A loss to the Aggies (13-10, 3-7), who enter the week at No. 144 in the RPI, all but cripples at-large bid aspirations.
So it’s handy to have Hickey dusting off a persona he’d packed away for a while.
On Saturday against Auburn, he scored 17 points — his highest tally since the 16 he notched Dec. 18 at Texas Tech — and knocked down five 3-pointers to punish a defense for collapsing on LSU’s interior players.
Yet Hickey’s trajectory has been upward over the past two weeks. Since a victory over then-No.11 Kentucky, he’s averaging 11.3 points on 57.1 percent shooting to go with 4.8 assists.
And a far cry from a nine-game stretch in which he averaged barely six points and shot just 28.6 percent from the floor. Not that you’d detect any clear signs Hickey was bothered by the cold spell.
“People scout you, but I also wasn’t knocking down my shots,” Hickey said. “So my confidence kind of got away from me a little bit.”
Yet he never deviated from outline sketched by Jones for what we asks out of his lead guard.
“Anytime you’re asking someone to be a quarterback, you have to make sure that they understand the philosophy of what you’re looking for in your team,” Jones said. “I think he’s been able to do that.”
The abiding trust he’s earned from Jones came after the Tigers coach needed to steer Hickey back in a course correction.
Last season, he was suspended three times for a total of three games for various petty offenses — late to a study hall or a missed class — meant to install proper parameters.
Even this season, Hickey was stripped of starting the first three games of the regular season for running afoul or a minor team rule. None of it rankled Hickey, though.
“I had blinders on,” he said.
Neither did the potential for seeing his minutes curbed with the arrival of four-star recruit Tim Quarterman.
Instead, he’s taken easily to the role of mentor by applying his same relentless on-ball pressure to the freshman to season him for the grind of conference play. After losses, they may meet in the practice gym in the wee hours of the morning to get shots up, or simply relax off the floor together.
“Outside of basketball, he’s just a genuine person,” Quarterman said. “He’s a guy you can talk to about anything, and he’s just a great guy to have of the court.”
Evidence enough, it seems, Hickey never feared his minutes would have been stripped away.
“When he’s got my back, I got his back,” Hickey said. “When he comes in for me, I know he’s going to ready. When I come in for him, he knows I’m ready. That’s just the type of relationship you need: Everybobdy to be clicking as one.”
So why is Hickey clicking now? The pendulum simply swung back his way, it seems. He’s not shooting the ball anymore — roughly 7.8 field-goal attempts per game — than he was during his slump. And he’s not changing his shot selection.
“I wasn’t really looking for my shots,” Hickey said. “Whenever my shots come, I take them. Last game, they were coming my way.”
What’s more impressive, though, is how Hickey has been able to create about as much offense — 4.8 assists per game — over the past four games while LSU’s been a blur.
The best evidence: A gaudy 6.3 assist-to-turnover ratio while LSU has averaged 74.2 possessions over the past four games.
“What we’ve asked him to do fits him well,” Jones said. “We’re an up-tempo type team. We want to push it. He’s very good in the open floor, a good passer, has a good assist-to-turnover ratio, is a very capable scorer.”
Hickey, though, boils it down.
“Just needed to handle business,” he said.