Tigers Use Second-Half Flurry to Overcome Cold Start
By David Steinle
Special to LSUsports.net
With 15:13 remaining in Sunday’s championship game of the Hispanic College Fund Classic, LSU coach John Brady removed his coat for the first time in the Tigers’ contest against South Alabama.
Usually, when the Tiger coach takes off his jacket, he is ready to unleash a verbal assault, either to exhort his team to turn up the defensive pressure or be more consistent on offense, or occasionally he will unload on the unsuspecting officials about a call he doesn’t particularly agree with.
This time, though, Brady removed his coat as the Jaguars were taking their second timeout of the second half, as USA coach John Pelphrey was trying to stunt an 11-0 LSU run that had helped the Tigers, who trailed by as many as eight in the first half, grab a 45-36 lead.
The Jaguars tried to fight the rising Tiger tide, but in the end, the former Kentucky standout faced the same fate he did four times during his playing days for the Big Blue in the PMAC-a defeat.
LSU never trailed after Torris Bright’s 3-pointer with 16:38 to play gave the Tigers a 39-36 lead, and although the Tigers never really pulled away to what could be termed a commanding lead, the Tigers were never ahead by fewer than six the rest of the way en route to a 71-62 victory.
A 3-point play by USA’s Malerick Bedden after the timeout gave the Jaguars a glimmer of hope, but as any good team does, the Tigers delivered the knockout punch, going on a 11-3 run over a five-minute stretch, taking a 56-42 lead on a short jumper by Ronald Dupree with 8:40 showing, turning out the lights on any USA comeback attempt.
Dupree and Bright had 12 points each, but they were both upstaged by title game MVP Jaime Lloreda. The Panamian and national JUCO Player of the Year in 2001 scored 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds in 31 solid minutes, showing just why almost every college was bidding for Lloreda’s skills out of Utah’s Dixie Junior College.
The key to the victory was, as John Brady likes to stress, getting a quality shot. The Tigers shot a solid 59.3 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes, with most of those coming on layups and dunks inside, as LSU took only seven shots from beyond the arc.
The big run was by the same LSU lineup that was as cold as ice in the first half, as the Tigers shot a sub-par 40.7 percent (11-of-27) from the floor, including a miserable stretch of nearly nine minutes when the Tigers missed nine consecutive shots from the field.
It’s not that LSU wasn’t getting good looks at the hoop during their first-half drought; four of the nine misses came on missed layups or short jumpers in the lane, which, if converted, would have removed any doubt as to the game’s outcome much earlier than it was.
Darrel Mitchell Jr., the nephew of Leonard Mitchell, the starting center on LSU’s 1981 Final Four “Silly in Philly” team, finally ended the drought with his steal and layup at the midway point of the first half, but initially, the Tigers couldn’t keep momentum after that play.
USA continued to hold the Tigers at bay for much of the first half, and they had another eight-point lead on Ugo Ezekwe’s 3-pointer that made it 27-19 with 4:54 to go in the first half.
But with time winding down in the first half and USA set to go to the locker room with a sizable lead, the Tigers got a big bucket from a player who needs to contribute many big buckets if LSU is to reach the next level, and that’s Antonio Hudson.
Hudson, the state’s top high school player out of Grambling two years ago, has been criticized at times for being too passive on the offensive end and passing up open shots, something he didn’t do nearly as much in high school in leading Grambling High to a pair of Top 28 berths, drained a 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining in the half, trimming a seven-point lead to 34-30 at the intermission, and LSU was on its way.
Hudson’s shot at the end of the half represented a respectable turnaround, as LSU hit 9 of 16 shots in the last 10 minutes of the first half after going a cold 2-for-11 in the first 10 minutes. If the Tigers could continue to hit and cut down on the 12 turnovers in the first half, a 2-0 start was on the horizon.
If the victories over Nicholls State and USA in winning the Hispanic Fund Classic proved anything, it’s that defense will continue to be a staple of the Tigers in this, Brady’s sixth season at LSU. LSU has more weapons offensively than it has since the Stromile Swift-Jabari Smith-Brian Beshara front line that carried the Tigers to the Sweet 16 in 2000, the Tigers still would prefer not to get in to too many run-and-gun affairs, instead choosing to keep the game in the high 60s to low 70s and shorten the game as much as possible with tough defense.
No, the Tigers won’t hold anyone else to the 24 points that Nicholls State mustered on Friday, which is the second-lowest total in Division I since the NCAA adopted the shot clock permanently in the 1985-86 campaign. But Brady will certainly take the clamp-down effort that limited USA to 28 points in the second half and a 37.9 shooting percentage for the game.
Remember, no matter, how much LSU may struggle from the floor, when their opponents are shooting just 30.2 percent from the field as Nicholls and USA did this weekend, the Tigers aren’t going to lose, either.
Another important observation is that Brady has a true bench for one of the rare times in his LSU tenure, and he won’t be afraid to call on it. With seniors Bright, Temple, Bridgewater and Dupree all in their fourth or fifth years in the Brady system, it’s obvious they will carry the load, allowing Lloreda, Mitchell and Shawnson Johnson time to adjust and feel their way into the major college game. Add in the experience provided by Hudson and Charlie Thompson, this Tiger team has all the tools to make a run at the field of 64.
As is the case for all 315 teams at Thanksgiving, there is obvious room for improvement. Missing nine straight shots, especially open layups and short jumpers, is a perfect recipe for disaster against the likes of Arizona, Tulane and the rugged Southeastern Conference. LSU must take better care of the basketball. And still, free throws continue to be a thorn in the Tigers’ side that dates back to Chris Jackson’s departure more than a decade ago, as LSU left 11 points on the line, far too many to stay alive in close games.
The good news is there is still a long, long road left to the Superdome and the Final Four in early April. Unlike the sport with the oblong brown ball that was played last night in Tiger Stadium, the roundball season still has a lot of playing out to do. Brady will most certainly be back at work on Monday trying to work out the kinks and have his team ready for Texas A&M on Saturday in Houston’s Reliant Stadium.