A third straight Southeastern Conference victory would normally be a joyous occasion for a young basketball team. But that wasn’t exactly the case for the LSU Tigers on Wednesday night.
Leading by 13 at halftime, the Tigers held off Vanderbilt’s late rally to earn a 57-56 win, but weren’t exactly pleased with their performance.
“Obviously we didn’t play as well as we normally do,” said forward Johnny O’Bryant III. “But a win is a win.”
After starting 0-4 in conference, LSU has now reeled off wins in four of its last five games, and has tasted the wholesome fruit of consistent success. The Vanderbilt contest resulted in victory, but these Tigers have begun to set a standard for themselves, and in the closing minutes against the Commodores, they didn’t play up to that standard. And they knew it.
Earning a win in the face of an unsatisfactory performance is certainly not a bad thing for a still-developing young team. It demonstrates that there’s plenty of work to do, but without the stinging agony of defeat. But as to LSU’s next opponent, it’s pretty safe to say that the Tigers will take a win however they can get it.
LSU (13-7, 4-5) invades Tuscaloosa on Saturday night to take on the Crimson Tide of Alabama (14-8, 6-3) in a crucial SEC tilt. While this game won’t exactly have the hype of an LSU-Bama gridiron clash, it still serves as an important piece of the puzzle in the SEC West race.
Alabama will come out with plenty of motivation on its home floor, especially after putting only 37 points on the board in Wednesday night’s loss at Auburn. The Tide are undefeated in the SEC at home, however, and have shown an ability to play consistently dominant half-court defense from within the comfortable confines of Coleman Coliseum.
LSU, meanwhile, relies on a smothering full-court press, and leans heavily on point guard Anthony Hickey to make things happen. The 5-foot-11 sophomore has been a terror in the middle of the Tigers’ press, and has developed an impressive knack for turning steals into quick points.
His play has drawn rave reviews from head coach Johnny Jones, who knows he’ll need his floor general to have a big game against Alabama if LSU is to escape with a win.
“Hickey is a warrior,” Jones said. “He’s extemely tough, and he can create havoc for the opponent.”
Much is on the line for Hickey and the Tigers, as they shoot for their fourth straight SEC win on Saturday. A victory could move them into fourth place in the SEC, and they would emerge as a legitimate contender for an NCAA berth. But as this squad has demonstrated, being merely a contender probably won’t satisfy them.