BATON ROUGE, La. — With his team leading by five points at halftime, LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones walked up to his leading scorer, Antonio Blakeney — who only scored two points in the half — to pay him a compliment.
“I commended him at half because he only took three shots,” Jones said. “The game plan was to try to punch the ball inside. He did that and he affected the game in that area and defensively. And then he had 8 rebounds at halftime.”
It isn’t every day that a coach asks his most talented scorer to play the role of distributor. But that’s what Jones asked Blakeney to do in LSU’s 75-65 win against Charleston on Monday. Blakeney, who entered the game averaging 16.9 points per game, finished with 7 points and 10 rebounds. It was simultaneously his second-worst scoring game and his best rebounding game of the season.
That said, when the game boiled to a point where LSU needed him, Blakeney was still able to step up.
With the score tied at 60 coming out of an LSU timeout, Jones drew up a play for Blakeney. Blakeney caught a pass just to the left of the top of the key and shot, drilling his first and only successful 3-point attempt of the game. Though LSU’s defense allowed Charleston to retie the game about a minute and a half later, Jones said he was impressed with Blakeney’s clutch persona.
“We had to go to him down the stretch,” Jones said. “We went back to him; he hit a big three. We called his numbers and he delivered for us.”
Still, LSU had to find a way to put up points without Blakeney’s presence for the first 38 minutes. Given that point guards Skylar Mays and Jalyn Patterson combined for 4 points, most of that load fell upon LSU’s front court and small forward Brandon Sampson.
Forwards Duop Reath and Craig Victor II accumulated 41 points and 18 rebounds, carrying the team, thanks to the forward-friendly game plan. But Sampson was there, too, notching 20 points on an 8-for-12 shooting day.
Sampson said after the game that he was there to clean up for Blakeney because he knows what it’s like to have a rough night. Two nights ago against Texas Southern, Sampson shot 4 for 10 from the floor, his worst night since LSU’s loss to Wichita State in the Bahamas.
“Just coming off of last game, I didn’t shoot the ball too well,” Sampson said. “I didn’t try to shoot the ball as much as I did; I tried to just start going inside and I started feeling better. Just going to the rack, going to the rack. I just got real comfortable and think I did really good on it.”
The LSU basketball team’s next game is Thursday against Wake Forest, a team ranked No. 16 in the RPI that took a talented Xavier squad to the wire.
If LSU is going to have any chance in that one, it’s going to need Blakeney and Sampson to be hot at the same time. Unless, of course, that’s not what the game plan calls for.