Four early-season games in South Carolina aren’t going to make or break LSU’s basketball season, so the fact the Tigers went 2-2 on an extended junket isn’t reason for too much emotional sway in either direction.
What the four games did do – especially the final three at the Charleston Classic – were fortify the confidence the Tigers had built up during a rugged and competitive preseason.
Now LSU (3-2) puts that confidence to its first test since coming home when South Alabama (1-2) visits the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for a 7 p.m. tipoff Wednesday.
The Tigers’ victories at the Charleston Classic came against Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech after a veteran Northwestern team stuck LSU with an 88-82 loss in the opening round.
“The last two games, we played real tough defense and hit a couple of big shots when we needed to,” sophomore guard Andre Stringer said. “The way we’ve been preparing so hard, it really sunk in. We’ve been beating each other up in practice and we saw how well we can play together in that tournament.”
For Stringer and fellow guard Ralston Turner, the three games in Charleston were an important eye-opener as well.
Last season when those two struggled to score, so did LSU. Neither one had to carry the load in any of the three games in Charleston.
Instead, freshman point guard Anthony Hickey was the biggest offensive spark with 16 points and 4 assists a game, while 7-foot center Justin Hamilton had a season-best 18 points and was effective when he stepped out and shot facing the basket.
“It’s definitely a relief to know that any given night anybody can be on and that makes us a better team because we have some different options,” said Turner, who never reached double digits in the three games.
“Justin opened up some things for us. He can step away from the goal and make some jump shots. We knew he was going to be good. The only question we had was how fast it was going to come. We like how quick he’s developed.”
Added Stringer, “His ability to step out and shoot keeps guys honest. It helps keep the floor spread and gives us a chance to take better shots.”
The quick emergence of Hickey is also a huge early boost.
LSU coach Trent Johnson said Hickey’s play helped the Tigers play about the way he expected.
“It was what you expect when you have a nucleus of guys returning and a point guard playing at a high level,” Johnson said.
As for what to expect from South Alabama, it’s hard to gauge.
The Jaguars (1-2) played Mississippi State to a standoff for 30 minutes before fading in an 80-65 loss in the season opener. Their last game wasn’t quite as promising: An 80-39 loss at Florida State when USA missed all 24 3-point attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.
Sophomore forward Ausgustine Rubit is the Jaguars’ best player – coming in averaging 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds and knocking down 14-of-16 free throws.