Hickey used that lesson against Georgia Tech Sunday, scoring 20 points to lead the Tigers to a 59-50 victory and a fifth-place finish in the eight-team tournament.
LSU (3-2) had an awful start to its week in South Carolina, losing at Coastal Carolina in Conway about 2 hours up the road last Tuesday, then falling into the losers’ bracket with an 88-82 loss to Northwestern.
Hickey, a 5-foot-11 freshman, struggled in both those losses. He was 2-of-8 from the field against Coastal Carolina, then was held scoreless in the second half against Northwestern. He recovered in a big way in his final two games at TD Arena with 17 points to beat Western Kentucky and a career-best performance Sunday against the Yellow Jackets (3-2).
“We learned how to play when stuff goes bad,” Hickey said. “When stuff goes bad everybody holds their heads down. Coach (Trent) Johnson says hold your heads up. We’re together. We’ve got to keep playing together.”
That worked against Georgia Tech, a team very similar in size and talent to LSU. Each trip down the floor was met with in-your-face defense and each free ball brought several bodies crashing against each other. LSU didn’t get clear until the very end.
“Yeah, it was tough out there,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said.
|Andre Stringer: 11 points in the victory|
The Yellow Jackets led 43-41 on Kammeon Holsey’s jumper, their first lead of the second half. That’s when Hickey struck for a go-ahead 3-pointer. Ralston Turner and Andre Stringer followed with 3-pointers to put the Tigers out in front 50-46.
Mfon Udofia’s third and final 3 drew Georgia Tech within 50-49 with 3:15 to go. That turned out as closes as the Yellow Jackets would get.
Justin Hamilton, LSU’s 7-foot junior, hit a pair of foul shots and a basket to extend the lead. Turner and Stringer combined for five foul shots down the stretch for the final margin.
LSU shot just 32.8 percent (21-of-64) and still came out ahead. Turner and Hamilton were each 3- of -12 from the field. Senior Storm Warren missed all 11 shots he took.
Johnson was pleased with his team’s response to the early-week losses and the cold shooting against Georgia Tech.
He said he was worried that his younger players like Hickey might hang their heads and spend too much time worried about defeat instead of focusing on the next opponent.
|Justin Hamilton and Storm Warren helped key a solid defensive effort in the Tigers' 59-50 win over Georgia Tech|
“We had not good shots, but great shots in the second half that didn’t go down,” Johnson said. “In the past, we might’ve forgot to defend. But we stuck our nose in there and came up with some loose balls.”
While the offense suffered, LSU’s defense got to the Yellow Jackets, who finished with 23 turnovers. The Tigers had nine steals.
“When the offense is going you’ve got to work on defense,” Hickey said.
Stringer had 11 points while Hamilton finished with 8 points and 9 rebounds.
Udofia had 14 points to lead Georgia Tech, while Glen Rice Jr. had 11 points, but just four of those in the second half.
Johnson said he is confident that Hickey and his other players will keep learning the lessons as they prepare for SEC play in January. “For us, we’ve got about 10 guys that are solid,” he said. “We’ve got a solid base.
“I leave this tournament saying what I said the first day of practice. We’ve got a team that can score the ball, but we have to defend. (Sunday) was a great example of that.”