BATON ROUGE, La. — Two weeks of rust was on full display Tuesday night as LSU staggered out of the gates against visiting North Carolina Central before rallying for a 70-66 win at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. It was LSU’s first game since Nov. 29.
The Tigers (6-2) trailed for almost the entire first half, falling behind by as many as 13 points. That has been LSU’s modus operandi this season, though. LSU is a collective 33 points worse than its opponents in the first half (293-260).
Sophomore guard Antonio Blakeney led the charge, scoring 18 of his 27 points in the second half.
North Carolina Central (6-5) guard Patrick Cole nearly pulled off a most unusual quadruple-double. Cole finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and 10 turnovers. Fellow guard Dajuan Graf tore through the LSU defense for 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting.
Neither team scored a field goal in the final 2:41 of the game.
Had the Eagles pulled off the upset, it would have been an all-timer as far as fiscal Davids and Goliaths go. LSU was seventh in the nation with a total athletic revenue of $138 million last year, while N.C. Central ranked 196th with a total budget of $11.8 million. The Eagles weren’t fazed by the big stage, though, having already beaten SEC opponent Missouri earlier this season.
Player of the game — Antonio Blakeney
After a lackluster first half for the Tigers, Blakeney took the team on his back for 18 second-half points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field, including 3 of 4 from behind the arc.
Stat of the game — 37 combined turnovers
The Tigers and Eagles were about as crisp as a bowl of pudding.
Both teams had more turnovers than assists, with LSU giving it away 18 times compared to 13 assists. It was similarly grim on the other end as North Carolina Central gave the ball away 19 times with 13 helpers.
Both teams could have done more on the other end with those miscues. LSU scored 23 points off turnovers and N.C. Central capitalized with 15.
Turning point — Reath block and Blakeney go-ahead 3
As John Madden used to tell us every week, big-time players make big-time plays. LSU’s top two players, Duop Reath and Antonio Blakeney, combined on a crucial second half sequence to give LSU its first lead since it was up 8-6 early in the first half.
Reath blocked N.C. Central’s Will Ransom at the basket, setting up the offensive possession that resulted in Blakeney’s go-ahead 3-pointer to put LSU up 53-52 with 12:40 left in regulation. However, it was a role player who set up Blakeney’s trey — guard Kieran Hayward, who appeared to catch everyone on the floor by surprise with an offensive board to keep that possession alive.
What’s next for LSU basketball?
For the second time this season, LSU hosts a former Indiana head coach who now works in the city of Houston.
Mike Davis and Texas Southern (4-6), which is playing its 11th consecutive road game, visit the PMAC Saturday at 5 p.m. The game will be televised on SEC Network. LSU defeated ex-Hoosiers coach Kelvin Sampson and Houston 84-65 on Nov. 29.