BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU basketball team has had a knack for making things harder on itself than it’s needed to this year.
Four of LSU’s seven wins this season have come by 10 points or fewer, including Saturday night’s 88-80 win over Texas Southern. On a couple of occasions, these have been comeback wins; LSU has been outscored 327-304 in the first half this season despite its 7-2 record.
LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones has a mixed opinion on this phenomenon. On one hand, his team is building resilience and experience, two qualities that will come in handy in conference play. But his team is also relying heavily on these abilities to beat under-qualified opponents, a trait that won’t work as well against SEC foes.
“If you’re playing tight games like this, it helps. You’re used to winning them,” Jones said. “But we have to raise our level. Certainly, we don’t play to perfection. We’ve got a long ways to go. But we feel like we have the type of guys to get there. They understand how important it is to play as a unit at both ends of the floor.”
Stock up: Points from the point guards
LSU basketball’s point guard platoon of junior Jalyn Patterson and freshman Skylar Mays has been more of a passing-and-defense combo than a scoring threat this season. The two have combined to shoot an atrocious 36.2 percent from the field in 2016, a mark worse than all but one of LSU’s regular contributors.
But Saturday, this trend looked like it started to reverse its course. Mays scored 5 points on a 2-of-5 shooting day and Patterson put up 12 points on a 4-for-5 night that included him going 2-for-2 from behind the 3-point line. Prior to Saturday, Patterson was 3-for-22 from long distance.
Stock down: Contributions from Aaron Epps
With Craig Victor suspended for LSU’s first three games of 2016, Aaron Epps stepped in and started six games for the LSU basketball team in the early going. Epps was one of LSU’s more impressive players over that stretch, taking pressure off center Duop Reath and averaging 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds over the Tigers’ first six games.
But this week, Epps became a total nonfactor. In seven minutes of action against N.C. Central on Tuesday, Epps managed 2 points and 3 rebounds. Things only got worse Saturday, when Epps contributed no points and committed 4 fouls in 8 minutes of playing time.
While Epps’ disappearance is a bummer for LSU, it has coincided with the resurgence of another LSU player, which is ultimately more important. Speaking of …
Staying put: Craig Victor doubles up
Since returning to the starting lineup three games ago against Houston, Victor has averaged a double-double with 11.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Saturday was his first proper double-double (14 and 10), and he led the LSU basketball team in minutes played (34) and times sent to the free throw line (5, he made 4).
Of Victor’s continued development, Jones said that it’s not even worth looking at the stats when you’re talking about Victor. His contributions off the court are far more important to this team’s chances at success.
“Craig, I don’t really look at his stat line as much as I look at his leadership,” Jones said. “I think he has the ability and all those other things to be that guy. Craig possesses and offers this team a lot. His rebounding, his scoring was at that level tonight. But once he reaches that level with leadership, I think the team will take another step as well.”
What’s next for LSU basketball?
The Tigers return to action Monday night with a rematch against Charleston. Last season, Charleston upset LSU 70-58 in one of the most disappointing games of the Ben Simmons era.
LSU and Charleston will play at 8 p.m. ET on SEC Network Plus from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.