Finding Balance

The LSU basketball team – still without a win in the SEC – takes on a pair of powerhouses in Tennessee and Kentucky this week at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

As most expected, Tasmin Mitchell has been the consistent workhorse for LSU head coach Trent Johnson’s squad. On the season, the senior forward has averaged 17.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game – both team bests.

Mitchell will need to come up big if LSU (9-12, 0-7) is going to claim its first conference victory of the season on Thursday when No. 14 Tennessee (16-4, 4-2) invades the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

“He’s remained positive and committed to his team and school, it attests to the caliber of kid and player he is,” Johnson said. “Everything Tasmin has done has been from skill, knowing how to play and studying the game; not to mention, he’s played inside and outside.

“For me, just the short time being around him in two years, I can attest to the person and caliber player he is, and how hard he has worked.”

While Mitchell is on the brink of 2,000 points for his career, the Tigers – still without a win in the SEC – continue their search for help from other names.

Bo Spencer and Storm Warren average 14.5 points and 12.8 points, respectively. After the top three, the falloff is a big one. No other Tiger averages more than 4.5 points. Aside from Mitchell and Warren, no player averages more than three rebounds.

Against Mississippi State, Johnson – more than he had all season – spread the minutes across 11 men, including three walk-on players.

While Mitchell nearly went the distance, Warren logged only 14 minutes. That allowed Garrett Greene (10 minutes), Eddie Ludwig (24 minutes) and Dennis Harris (7 minutes) to see significant action.

Tiger fans also got an extended look at new names at the guard position. With Spencer held to 3-of-10 shooting with three turnovers over 28 minutes, guards Daron Populist and Chris Beattie made the most of their opportunity.

Populist finished with four points and two rebounds in 22 minutes of action, while Beattie logged 20 minutes and recorded five points.

“Anyone that steps in the game and gets in there defensively and gives us a lift offensively, we are going to play,” Johnson said. “I thought Populist did a good job against a very athletic and quick team. Beattie has shown he is a guy that gets more minutes because he is making shots. Both of those guys look comfortable coming in and giving us a lift. Yes, they missed a couple of threes, but they had an opportunity to stay within striking range.

“I’m playing as many guys as possible,” he added. “We just have to continue to work at it.”

With both the worst field goal percentage (.417) and scoring offense (63.5 points per game) in the SEC, the objective down the conference stretch is to keep the names shuffling until the hot hand is found.

“What we are looking for in regards to the whole team is that when the ball is swung out, we need a guy to make a shot,” Johnson said. “And you look at what’s going on defensively, is Daron Populist a better defender than Chris Bass? Some people say no because Chris Bass has been strongest in the program for two years, but I go back to the Mississippi State game. I put Daron in there against Dee Bost and he did a very good job. He kept him out of the lane.

“For me, I feel really good about Chris and Daron because they played well. That speaks volumes for them.”

With two of the conference’s most talented teams headed to Baton Rouge this week, the message Johnson has handed down to his team remains the same as the one he passed along in week one of the season.

“I tell them to continue to stay aggressive, positive and confident within themselves,” Johnson said. “I’ve never been a coach that puts pressure on guys and worries about free throws and missed shots, as long as they are taking good shots within our framework. We just need to stay positive.”

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