For a team that has a persistent propensity for leaving the door wide open, it sure doesn’t hurt to have a little firepower left for when things start to get hairy.
That makes LSU fit the odd description of a team that can’t seem to close the deal consistently but also refuses to fade when crunch time arrives.
On Monday, the Tigers toyed with the notion of an easy victory over College of Charleston on a chilly night at the PMAC, with a pair of 13-point leads in the second half.
By the end of the night, it took a 10-0 game-closing crescendo for LSU to subdue the Cougars 75-65.
The Tigers (8-2) used effective team defense and an inside-out attack anchored by Duop Reath (23 points) and Craig Victor (18 points-10 rebounds) in the paint and Brandon Sampson (20 points) to maintain the upper hand most of the night. And when Charleston pecked away and forged a tie with 4:04 to play, LSU dug deep for that firepower and found plenty.
“I’m really excited about these guys,” said Tigers’ coach Johnny Jones, turning in an about-face from his postgame comments two nights earlier when he struggled to camouflage his frustration after a narrow win over Texas Southern.
“I really liked the play of our post guys. They’re showing some consistency out there. I like the unselfishness of this team in terms of our guards. They’re great scorers but shared the basketball and they stuck to the game plan and tried to get paint touches early. As the game played out it became a focal point. I thought it was a great team win.”
Indeed, it was a win that required a little bit from everybody at one time or another, with most necessary boxes checked off when it was all over.
Johnny Jones post-Charleston press conference
Sparked by Victor’s third straight game with a double-digit rebound total, LSU dominated the backboards 43-29 (the Tigers actually had more defensive caroms alone with 31), and the defense flustered the Cougars (8-4) into a 36.5% shooting night (23 of 63).
Charleston guard Joe Chealey did manage to score 23 points, but he was 6-for-18 from the floor and didn’t unearth a ton of easy looks at the basket with first Skylar Mays and then a combination of Jalyn Patterson and Antonio Blakeney hounding him.
Blakeney’s run of offensive production hit a hurdle, as he wound up with only 7 points. But the 6-foot-4 guard snatched 10 rebounds and dished out 3 assists in 36 minutes. For the second game in a row, Reath was a go-to offensive weapon and he responded by knocking down a variety of shots (10-for-16 overall). For good measure, he added 3 blocked shots.
“I am always trying to bring the energy every night defensively, and just block everything that goes up,” he said.
Reath, Victor and Sampson all played major roles in an initial game-turning 16-2 surge that ended the first half and began the second.
Charleston slipped in front 32-31 when Jarrell Brantley finished a fast break with a layup 2:34 before the end of the first half. At the other end, Reath missed in close but grabbed his own rebound, got fouled and swished the two foul shots to trigger a run of six unanswered points in the closing 2:07. Reath also fed Jalyn Patterson on a nice backdoor cut for a layup as the Tigers went to halftime up 37-32.
LSU picked up where it left off in the second half when Victor buried a turnaround jumper from the lane, Sampson drove the baseline for a reverse layup, Victor made two free throws, Reath dunked off a pass from Victor and then coaxed in a feathery short jumper.
Those 10 points in the initial 3:07 set up the 13-point lead.
“Take our time running the offense and letting things come to us,” Sampson said to describe what was clicking. He was a big cog in that and did most of his work off the dribble. “We stuck to our assignments, got the ball inside. I think everything just came to us instead of rushing everything.”
Charleston didn’t crumble.
With the deficit 49-36 after two Sampson foul shots, the Cougars reeled off a 14-4 burst as Grant Riller warmed up five points in a row and Chealey converted a three-point play.
Three straight missed shots by LSU created just enough of an opening for Charleston to draw even, 60-60, when Marquise Pointer stuck a jumper from the lane with 4:12 left.
Blakeney jacked in a 3-point off a set play after a timeout, but the Cougars knotted the score moments later. Reath backed in a defender for a 65-63 advantage, but Chealey beat the defense on a dribble-drive – a rare sight in this game – to again even the score with 1:49 to go.
“They clawed back and never gave up,” College of Charleston coach Earl Grant said. “That game could have gone in any direction. We called a time out, we talked about it and we got it back.”
The Cougars didn’t have an answer to LSU’s final flurry, though.
Sampson beat the defense on a drive and floated in a go-ahead shot with 1:30 on the clock and Patterson got Charleston off schedule when forced Chealey into a travel at the opposite end and then finished a drive with 46.5 seconds left.
After that, the Cougars had to attack quicker than they wanted to and missed three shots in a row, which led to Sampson scoring on a fast break and Victor calmly drilling four free throws in a row.
“I just like the way that they don’t get distracted,” Jones said. “They come out of timeouts extremely focused and looking to make the next play. (Charleston) made a great run at the end in tying the game up and we had to fight back and make some plays.
“I like the focus down the stretch and how we got the ball to the right place, moving it, and securing it in a much better fashion which gave us a better opportunity to execute, which we did down the stretch.” http://www.scout.com/college/lsu/story/1739255-rapid-reaction-lsu-beats-...
Which has become a necessary tool for the Tigers. Their last three wins have all come down to the final minute and LSU has persevered each time.
Defense was a big part of that again Monday, and is concept that drawing the Tigers together.
“We have a great team chemistry and we are talking more on defense,” Victor said. “Also we have more than one leader. We have (Sampson), Antonio and Jalyn. That helps out a lot, but the main thing is talking on defense, knowing the situation and cracking down on defense towards the end of the game.”
LSU hits the road to conclude pre-SEC play with a tough test at Wake Forest at 8 p.m. Thursday. Last season the Demon Deacons came to the PMAC and claimed a 77-71 triumph.
You can follow Randy Rosetta on Twitter @RandyRosetta.
BOX SCORE | LSU 75, College of Charleston 65
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
- College of Charleston endured a miserable night shooting from outside the arc, especially in the second half when the Cougars hoisted nine shots and missed them all.
- Although he finished with 23 points, Chealey had nearly as many turnovers (4) as made shots (6).
- Reath, Sampson and Victor combined to knock down 23-of-34 field goals among them. The rest of the Tigers were 6-for-24. Likewise, that trio was 14-for-16 at the foul stripe and other LSU players attempted only two (Aaron Epps missed both).
- On 30 of Charleston’s offensive possessions, the Cougars went one-and-done – missed shots and LSU defensive rebounds. Six of those, plus a turnover, came during a 4:15 scoring drought in the first half.
- Tigers’ big man Elbert Robinson played only 4 minutes, but he snared a pair of defensive rebounds and forced a jump ball in his short stint.