Coleman, Morgan give LSU strength off the bench

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- LSU's Shavon Coleman defends against Southeastern Louisiana University's Julian Chiera. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- LSU's Shavon Coleman defends against Southeastern Louisiana University's Julian Chiera.

Reserves Coleman, Morgan give positive minutes for Tigers

Johnny Jones’ aim before a trip to the Old Spice Classic was to sift through lineup variations and identify a rotation for the LSU men’s basketball team.

Sure, it might have taken 60 combinations, but two roles seem settled as the Tigers (5-2) host Louisiana-Monroe (3-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Senior swingman Shavon Coleman and sophomore guard Malik Morgan nabbed the roles of super subs over three games in four days in Orlando, Fla., including combining for 24 points in an overtime victory against Butler.

“They should be counted on in the rotation and maximize their minutes when they’re out there on the floor for us,” Jones said. “If they’re able to do that night in and night out at a high level we have a chance to be successful.”

If anything, the Tigers’ trip to Orlando affirmed the hints dropped over LSU’s first four games.

With frontcourt depth shallow last season, Coleman played out of position on the block. Recruiting solved that problem, but the Thibodaux native’s transition to the perimeter had been mixed.

Against zone defenses, his ability to attack the rim off the dribble was valuable, but finding a consistent stroke from the perimeter remained elusive. That seemed to resolve itself on a neutral floor, where he shot 58.8 percent and went 4 of 7 behind the 3-point arc.

“I’m putting everything together coming off the bench,” said Coleman, who averaged 9.3 points per game at the Old Spice Classic. “I’m able to give my team some positive minutes. I think that’s really it. We all just want to win.”

And it’s that outlook that allows Jones to offset minor quibbles, such as struggles at times in Coleman transitioning to perimeter defense.

“He’s just been a tremendous utility-type player for us, and a tremendous glue guy,” Jones said of Coleman. “He’s been able to play inside when we needed him, and able to step back out of the perimeter.”

But Morgan’s quiet emergence is a critical boon. Right now, Andre Stringer is the clear option at hooting guard, averaging 13.6 points per game and hitting 36.4 percent from behind the arc.

But then there are outings like Stringer’s against Butler. It wasn’t until 2:47 left in regulation that he put up his first shot, finishing the day 1 of 4 with two points. Worse, Anthony Hickey was only 1 of 5 for three points, but his lone bucket — a deep 3 at the top of the arc — forced overtime.

While the starters struggled, Morgan tied a career-high with 12 points to go with seven rebounds. The scoring was a boon, but if the John Curtis graduate can reproduce the efficiency of a 5 of 11 night from the floor and track down misses, he’ll carve out minutes.

“It’s big for your confidence any time you’re able to put the ball in the hole,” Morgan said. “I was just trying to focus on my defense more than my offense, and I just happened to find open shots.”

That’s what Jones covets. Off the bench, Morgan’s ability on the offensive glass — he leads LSU with a 13.9-rebound rate when he’s in — and length defensively present a different look.

“He’s done a tremendous job in terms of his energy and what he’s bringing,” Jones said. “I think he sees that opportunity from Orlando.”

And that might be among the bigger takeaways before LSU took two weeks off for final exams. Over three games, its bench averaged 17.3 points per game, including a 24-0 edge over Butler.

Against Saint Joseph’s, it was Coleman and Morgan that combined to notch all of LSU’s scoring during a critical 13-0 run in the first half for a 31-21 lead and allowed the Tigers’ to get separation.

“Those guys sacrifice a lot to come off the bench,” forward Johnny O’Bryant said. “You look at a game like against St. Joseph’s or against Butler where they came off the bench and exploded then sat back down. It means a lot to us.”