Rabalais: LSU rebounds, scores shot of confidence

There are Twitter accounts out there with Jarell Martin’s name attached to them, but they’re all collecting cyberdust.

He says he doesn’t tweet, which is probably the healthiest attitude an athlete can have. Because social media can be downright anti-social, especially when things aren’t going well.

After their 88-74 overtime collapse at Ole Miss on Wednesday, the knives were out for Martin’s LSU Tigers. They were widely being labeled a bust and a disappointment by a wide cross section of critics, yours truly included.

Fair or not, there was no question LSU’s game Saturday night against Vanderbilt was as critical as an early Southeastern Conference game can get. The Tigers would have slipped to 1-3 in SEC play with a defeat. LSU won a share of the SEC regular-season title in 2000 after a 1-3 start, but that kind of rebound is as rare as South Louisiana snow.

“There was pressure after they beat Missouri and we were coming off a loss,” Martin said. “We practiced hard, and we came out with a different mindset.”

Hard to say whether the Tigers showed championship form in their 81-58 win over a game but outmanned bunch of Commodores. But LSU was a team staring a basketball brand of oblivion in the face, and the Tigers responded with a strong, at times dominant effort.

“We really needed this win,” forward Jordan Mickey said. “We did a good job staying together, trusting each other.”

One of the most enduring quotes going is this one: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” However, in LSU’s case Saturday night, there were a couple of statistics that pointed toward some telling truths.

The Tigers (11-5, 2-2) owned the hardwood around the basket and treated the Commodores like unwanted guests therein. LSU pounded the ball inside to Johnny O’Bryant III — the empty gap in the missing man formation that was the Tigers’ loss at Ole Miss — and to Mickey and Martin. They produced 22 points and 12 rebounds, 13 points and five rebounds and 11 points and five rebounds, respectively.

LSU outscored Vandy 40-24 in the paint. Even more impressive, the Tigers doubled up the Commodores 48-24 in rebounding — LSU’s biggest margin and Vandy’s biggest deficit of the season.

“It tells a lot,” Martin said of the Tigers’ staggering rebounding edge. “It’s like a hungry dog with a bone. We went after every ball, and we got it.”

O’Bryant deserves a Tiger’s share of the credit for leading the rebounding barrage, but coach Johnny Jones said his team wiped Vandy off the glass because of a collective effort that was satisfying for the coach’s soul.

“All five guys were conscious about going to the glass,” Jones said. “We didn’t stand around and wait on Johnny and Jordan to do it. All five guys attacked the glass on both ends. As a team, they shoot a lot of 3s, so there are a lot of long rebounds. Our guys did a good job of chasing them down.”

“When we rebound like that,” Martin said, “we’re tough to beat.”

That certainly would be true for any team. The question that followed the Tigers off the court in victory Saturday night was whether LSU can sustain it. The schedule ahead is full of bones for the Tigers to chew on.

Missouri, a loser Wednesday at Vandy, is next on Tuesday. Mizzou’s overall record is impressive at 14-3, but LSU’s homecourt edge could prove to be the tipping point.

LSU then travels to 8-9 Alabama before returning home to host a talented but vulnerable Kentucky team and streaky, quirky Arkansas. The Tigers then go to Georgia and are home against SEC-winless Auburn before back-to-back road tests at Texas A&M and Arkansas.

There is a clear opportunity for LSU — the motivated and efficient LSU team that doubled up Vandy on the boards and shot 58.6 percent in the second half — to run off a string of wins. To bury the overtime that will live in infamy at Ole Miss and focus on the confidence-building positives from Saturday night.

“It says something,” Jones said. “It’s your measuring stick. Now we have to bounce back and play a very good game against a very good Missouri team on Tuesday. But this game is an indicator, and we can point to it because of how we played and because of our focus.”

The way LSU played against Vanderbilt is the kind of game that can be a turning point in a team’s season. It’s up to the Tigers to take full advantage.