Just before the LSU men’s basketball team took the floor against McNeese State on Monday night, head coach Trent Johnson rallied his side by sharing some facts from the season.
He told his Tigers that they were two defensive stops away from being 10-3, but a lack of aggression for the full 40 minutes had them sitting with five losses.
The two games Johnson focused on, a 72-70 overtime loss at Washington State on Dec. 22 and a 61-59 loss at home to Utah on Jan. 2, saw LSU crumble when in charge late, from missing final-minute free throws to blowing a 12-point second half lead.
That was the message Johnson passed down.
When the Tigers took the floor Monday night, Johnson did not have to do much coaching – at least not late.
By the second half, LSU was playing strong; and they appeared ready to finish with the same intensity.
Up by two at halftime, the Tigers used a 50-29 second half to run away from the Cowboys and move their record to 9-5.
A quick look at the stat sheet tells you the story, a tale that Johnson had not heard from his team in 2009.
There was the typical, starting with senior forward Tasmin Mitchell, who recorded 19 points and 11 rebounds in 37 minutes of action.
Bo Spencer, who scored a season-low four points in LSU’s loss to Utah, finished the night with 18 points, 12 of which came from behind the arc.
Storm Warren, whose foul trouble limited him to only 18 minutes, managed 10 points and five rebounds - his 13th double-digit scoring game on the season.
Those are the expected lines.
Evidenced by the loss to the Utes, if one of those three pieces is missing from the puzzle, the Tigers likely won’t be able to notch a win – at least not with the lack of production elsewhere.
Yet, Monday night showed promise that help could be closer to arriving than expected.
Freshman guard Aaron Dotson, who had been ice cold from the floor for most of 2009, opened 2010 with a bang, hitting on 4-of-6 shots, including 2-of-3 from three-point range, for 10 points, one short of his career high.
After going over 20 minutes just once through the months of November and December, sophomore walk-on guard Zach Kinsley used 26 minutes of action to net eight points, three assists and a pair of rebounds.
Even forwards Dennis Harris and Garrett Greene got involved.
Greene, who is off to a slow start to his sophomore campaign after battling back injuries last season, finished with a season-high seven points in only nine minutes of action, going a perfect 3-of-3 from the field.
Freshman Dennis Harris, who has also battled injury this season, appeared not to be hampered at all, recording seven points in 11 minutes of action, also going a perfect 3-of-3 from the field.
Outside of Mitchell-Spencer-Warren, the Tigers found a way to add 32 points. Add that to the 47 combined points from the big three and the reality is that McNeese never really stood a chance.
The win ended LSU’s three-game losing streak, but more importantly it provided a platform for the rest of the Tigers – the unproven bunch – to step into the spotlight and make their presence felt.
Minus the defeat at Xavier, each of LSU’s losses saw Mitchell, Spencer or Warren disappear, from Warren’s two points at Washington State to Spencer’s four points against Utah.
If all three are hitting their mark, then the Tigers can get past lesser competition (they proved that through the first two months of the season).
Of course, even if all three Tigers were hot night in and out, it would be tough to envision this lineup running through SEC play like the 2009 team did.
However, if the rest of the gang, from Chris Bass and Dotson out top to Greene and Harris down low, can score baskets like they did against McNeese, then a better conference finish than most envisioned might be in store.
The second season, as Johnson labeled it on Monday, begins this Saturday at 4 p.m. against Alabama.