Finding Balance

Southeastern Conference play opens for LSU on Saturday with a home game against Alabama. At Thursday's press conference, head coach Trent Johnson shared his thoughts on the road ahead.

LSU’s three-headed monster - Tasmin Mitchell, Bo Spencer and Storm Warren - has dominated the scoring for the Tigers through non-conference play, making up nearly 70 percent of the team’s total point production.

All three are among the top 20 in the conference in scoring. Mitchell and Warren have recorded double-double nights a combined 13 times, while Spencer has topped the 20-point mark on six occasions.

In LSU’s losses, the Tigers saw one - and sometimes two - names from the big three disappear.

In an 81-55 loss to Connecticut, Mitchell and Spencer were held to a combined 14 points. With Spencer sidelined with an injury in the following game, Arizona State routed LSU, 71-52.

The overtime loss at Washington State saw Storm Warren last just 21 minutes and finish with two points, the lone time the sophomore has recorded a single-digit scoring night all season.

After an 89-65 defeat at Xavier, the losing streak hit three straight after a 61-59 home loss to Utah, a team the Tigers held a 12-point second half lead over. That night, Spencer scored a season-low four points, two of which came from the free throw line.

For this team to be successful, the need to have all three men on their game each night is a truth Johnson does not shy away from.

“It’s always important,” he said. “If it’s one, two, three, four or five [scorers].”

How Johnson followed up the statement tells the true tale of the team.

“It’s more important for everyone else to contribute,” he said.

A look at the scorecard from LSU’s 83-60 win over McNeese State on Monday night shows production that the Tigers have not been able to manage consistently this season.

Mitchell, Warren and Spencer – the three-headed monster – all hit double-digit scoring, with Warren and Mitchell combining for 16 rebounds.

Aaron Dotson, who has recorded three double-digit scoring nights through 14 games of his freshman season, finished with 10 points, all of which came in the second half.

Off the bench, forwards Garrett Green and Dennis Harris were both 3-of-3 from the floor, each knocking down a three-point bucket. Both finished with seven points, which was a season-high for Green.

Walk-on guard Zach Kinsley, who has stepped into a big role with the loss of senior guard Alex Farrer to injury, finished the night with eight points, three assists and two rebounds in just over a half of play.

With SEC play on the horizon, is the win – with help from all angles - convincing enough to believe that the Tigers are ready to jump into the thick of conference play?

When asked that question on Thursday, Johnson jokingly responded that the team had no choice.

The words of advice Johnson passed on, which came with a more serious tone, followed the approach of “we are who we are,” a mind frame the headman has stressed since this team took the court in November.

“From a production standpoint, let’s be realistic,” he said. “We are in league play going against better teams. Zach Kinsley is not going to be Marcus Thornton overnight.

“Zach is who he is. Aaron is who he is, and so on and so forth. I am looking for us, mentally and physically, to stay on the same level.”

That means not focusing so much on what the stat sheet reads at night’s end and giving more attention to playing within each Tiger’s abilities.

“Sometimes we get too caught up when they are sagging on Chris Bass and he is not shooting well,” Johnson said. “Well, that’s not what Chris does very well. What he did versus McNeese was dribble the lane and create for someone else.

“Aaron has learned to put it on the deck and get in the lane,” he added. “When you look at the scoring, Aaron is going to have an opportunity. Chris is going to have an opportunity. Bo and Tasmin have crucial points in the game where no matter the pressure applied, they have to take good shots. Garrett, Dennis, Eddie [Ludwig], those guys are going to have to step up and make plays. Be aggressive and shoot with confidence. If it doesn’t go down, it doesn’t go down.”

The central concept of each message, as it has been since day one in Johnson’s camp, is that fundamental basketball takes precedence over anything else.

“Our ability to pass and catch with two hands, the ability to handle pressure and make good decisions, is going to be exposed or not exposed,” said Johnson of what lies ahead in SEC play. “Before we worry about shots and who produces, the ability to pass and catch and crack pressure and be strong with the ball is the most important.”

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