1. First thing’s first, LSU showed major heart tonight.- There was a stretch of time early in the second half when this one felt over. West Virginia was putting the finishing touches on an 18-1 run (in what became a game of runs) and had the visiting Tigers down 14 and playing out of sorts and in serious frontcourt foul trouble. What did LSU do? Brushed itself off, found a way to make some shots – I’m looking at you, Tim Quarterman – and, even in a raucous environment, kept its cool on the defensive end, forcing the Mountaineers, which finished the game shooting 34.3%, into more difficult shots and gifting less transition opportunities.
This was the kind of performance LSU had been unable to put together on the road in Johnny Jones’ two seasons-plus in Baton Rouge, much less against the nation’s No. 16 team that had been undefeated and won all its games but one by double digits. Give credit to the coaching staff for halftime and in-game adjustments. The team was not adequately prepared for WVU’s press (see below), but LSU handled things better after the break and changed the tempo of the game somewhat. But make sure most of all to give credit to those players – Quarterman for his 21-point clutch explosion, Jarell Martin for putting up an 18/14 slash with Jordan Mickey in foul trouble from jump street, Keith Hornsby for hitting an enormous three with 33 seconds left and, finally, Josh Gray for his heroics late when the red sea/lane parted.
2. But it wasn’t necessarily pretty as Tigers battled themselves.
- This section is about two types of self-inflicted wounds, and LSU can ill-afford to have either follow it around this season. The first is foul trouble and the second is committing an inane rash of turnovers. On foul trouble: Mickey picked up two in 118 seconds, altering the entire landscape of the game, forcing LSU to play smaller, faster and removing one of the team’s best weapons on both sides of the floor. Martin, who ultimately fouled out, joined him in foul purgatory by picking up his third early in the second half and even Quarterman found his way to four fouls with several minutes to play. As shallow as LSU’s bench is (it expanded some tonight due to Mickey’s predicament), Johnny Jones’ crew won’t fare well should injuries or foul trouble plague any of the five players averaging 30 minutes-plus.
The turnovers, though, are more worrisome for me. It was no secret how WVU liked to play coming into the game. Jones and LSU’s players spoke to it in interviews on Monday and again after the UMass win Tuesday night, talking about the Mountaineers’ press and penchant for getting in passing lanes and turning teams over. Well, the Tigers fell right into the web West Virginia was spinning. LSU turned the ball over 15 times in the first half and the vast majority came trying to race up the court against a team averaging 13.9 steals. WVU ended up with 19 steals and caused 24 LSU turnovers. When you consider that it’s really remarkable LSU got the victory. Other factors – Quarterman, shooting 8-of-15 from three, Mountaineers poor shooting – kind of bailed the Tigers out. You take it, sure, but LSU has to value possession more and not play with fire like it did tonight.
3. Win over WVU could help unlock a lot come March.
- It’s way, way too early, so I’ll only give this section one paragraph, but this week was rather large for LSU basketball. Thumping the Minutemen 82-60 on Tuesday night proved to be just the appetizer. Tonight’s 74-73 road win at No. 16 West Virginia will really resonate, echoing through to March and giving the Tigers an oversized, colorful feather in their cap with the selection committee. Like I said, it’s still the first week of December, but should LSU find itself a bubble team, the two wins from this week, especially this one, could tip the scales. At the very least they’ve made the 1-2 run from the Virgin Islands disappear. The 2-0 run this week is more impressive than that was deflating. It will be interesting to see what LSU does with its newfound mojo heading into an 8-day break between games with exams.