BATON ROUGE, La. — Not all winning trends are good ones.
That’s the situation the LSU basketball team finds itself in eight games into the 2016-17 regular season. Sure, the team has worked to a 6-2 record, including five wins at home, after a 70-66 win over NC Central on Tuesday. But in the process of winning, LSU has relied an inordinate amount on second-half rallies and comebacks, a strategy that might not work out as well once LSU starts playing deeper teams in the heart of conference play.
In the first half this year, LSU has been outscored, 293-260. But in the second half, the Tigers ramp it up, outscoring opponents, 328-265.
Tuesday night was a perfect example of this trend. LSU came out slow, trailing by as many as 13 points on three separate occasions and heading into halftime facing a 43-36 deficit. But the second half was a completely different game. LSU held N.C. Central to 29.6 percent shooting and outscored the Eagles, 34-23, enough to squeak out a victory.
When asked about this phenomenon, sophomore Antonio Blakeney was blunt. He isn’t quite sure why it happens.
“I honestly don’t know,” Blakeney said. “We come out and try to do the best we can from the jump. Obviously, sometimes we start off slow. But I don’t know why.”
On a macro level, there really isn’t a single answer to the question. Each opponent is different, therefore presenting a new host of challenges for LSU to adjust to. And Tuesday night was especially bizarre, given that LSU hadn’t played in 14 days. This was a long enough layoff for sophomore Brandon Sampson to admit he and his teammates came out a little groggy.
But, as LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones explained, his team thrives when it’s time to adjust. Take Tuesday for example. N.C. Central came out and shot 5 for 10 from 3-point range and crammed 26 points in the paint in the first half.
But, at halftime, Jones called for some adjustments.
“There were some things that we didn’t defend great (in the first half),” Jones said. “But we were able to adjust to what they were doing on the offensive end of the floor. We were able to put more pressure on the ball there in the second half. We played with a little more length and got tighter on the ball and made it tougher for them to execute their plays because we were trying to take away passing lanes.”
N.C. Central managed just six points in the paint in the second half and shot 2 for 12 from long distance. Thanks to this stifling defense, LSU held N.C. Central scoreless in the last 3:04 of the game, over which time the Eagles missed their last nine shots between attempts from the field and free throws.
According to Blakeney, this was LSU’s plan after halftime.
“They were shooting the ball real well, shooting like 60 percent,” Blakeney said. “So, just coming out after halftime, trying to play some D, take our offense to another level. I think we held them to like 29 percent shooting in the second half. And that’s when we started playing better.”
To Sampson, the key to avoiding slow starts is energy. Whether it’s adrenaline or talent taking over or the mythical concept of “momentum,” Sampson said he believes the way LSU plays is dependent on the effort the players exert.
So, how does the team play with more energy? Again, there isn’t a great answer to that question. But Sampson tends to think that the best way to build energy in the future is to build off the energy you earned in the past.
“I think there’s nights with energy and there’s nights without it,” Sampson said. “You’ve just got to have energy on a consistent basis. That helped us out.”