Luckily for the Tigers, those bumps have not turned into potholes, and Johnson’s group will be gunning for their sixth straight win. Starting the season 6-0 has not been accomplished at LSU since the 2003-04 season, and if the Tigers are to reach that milestone then they will have to go through their stiffest competition to date in Cal State Fullerton.
The Titans (3-4) are coming off their best season in more than 30 years, where they finished 24-9 and earned a bid to the NCAA tournament after winning the Big West Conference Tournament for the first time since 1978.
This is a different Titan squad, however, as head coach Bob Burton lost four starters from last year’s team. Still, Cal State Fullerton played Wake Forest very close before falling 76-69, and LSU’s players know they will need to bring their A-game on Tuesday night.
“Coach told us that every team we play is going to be better than the team before and Cal State Fullerton is a good team,” said Garrett Temple. “I saw them on TV on Thanksgiving playing against the 24th ranked Wake Forest team and they were only down by like five points with a few minutes left, so it’s a team that can play.”
The Titans are led by their only returning starter from a year ago in 5-11, 185 pound guard Josh Akognon, who averages 24.4 points a game.
Gerald Anderson, a 6-6, 205 pound junior leads them down on the blocks with 12.6 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.
Johnson has made sure that his players respect the Titans regardless of their record, and he knows that his team will need to play well on the defensive end to come away with a victory.
“They have good players for one and they have a hell of a basketball coach,” Johnson said. “They have a level of toughness to them that you appreciate. They’re a very competitive basketball team that will not beat themselves.
“We’re going to have to play well and we’re going to have to take care of the ball,” added Johnson. “We’re going to really have to get to their shooters. They run a combination of what Troy State’s offense does, which is what Memphis does, in penetrating and drawing back to the three-point shooters, but also they can play on the half court.”
The Tigers are spreading the wealth as four of their starters are averaging in double digits in scoring, but Thornton has been on a tear the last three outings.
The senior guard scored 25 against Centenary and Northwestern State, and he pumped in a season-high 32 against Troy.
Thornton has raised his average to 15.8 points per game after scoring only five and eight in his first two outings, and his teammates are well aware of the run he is on.
“We know he can shoot the ball and we’re looking for him,” said Temple. “If he’s in a rhythm and we kick it out to him and even if someone is close to him he’ll shoot it and he can knock that down.”
After Tuesday night’s matchup, the Tigers will be off until Dec. 13 as the players focus on final exams.
Johnson hopes this will give them one more opportunity to improve in all facets of the game because although he has seen some improvement, he knows there is still a ways to go.
“I think in terms of our intensity level, for us being able to put three games together with really competing at a high level and in terms of us sharing the ball and playing together, it’s an improvement,” he said.
“But also, I’m not blind to the fact that with all due respect to the teams and players we’ve played that A, we’ve been home, and B, we’re bigger, stronger and quicker … But are we better than we were a month ago? Are we better than we were a week ago? We certainly are.”