AMHERST, Mass. — Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee are seen as the three top teams in the SEC this season. LSU, like the Vols, is much improved heading into this season, and despite a 92-90 road loss to UMass on Tuesday afternoon, the Tigers showed a lot of promising in their opening game of the 2013-2014 season.
“I thought our guys did an excellent job of continuing to battle regardless of guys on the bench with foul trouble or injuries,” LSU head coach Johnny Jones said. “And I thought they did an excellent job of hanging in there, battling until the end, hitting big shots. We didn’t make enough stops against a good team.
“I think it’s great experience for us. We played a very experienced basketball team on the road, the first game of the season for us. And I thought our guys passed the test in a lot of areas, unfortunately the score wasn’t too our liking at the end, but I thought a lot of positive things happened.”
The opening minute could not have been more of an ominous sign for the Bayou Bengals. Jarell Martin, a five-star forward and the prize piece in Jones’ recruiting class, went to the bench with an ankle injury and did not return. Jones didn’t want to risk it, he needs the 6-foot-9 Martin during conference play, not to get a November win.
In his absence, another freshman, Jordan Mickey stepped up with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in 38 minutes during his collegiate debut.
“Jordan helped a lot,” LSU junior forward Johnny O’Bryant added. “I told him after the game, even at halftime, that I was proud of the way he played. Jarell goes down and he stepped up.”
The first half saw 34 fouls called with UMass taking one more field goal than free throws through 20 minutes. O’Bryant, who had 14 points and six boards in the first half, picked up his third foul late, and then his fourth foul with 13 minutes to go and LSU trailing 64-59.
UMass opened up its second double-digit lead a little more than a minute after O’Bryant was seated on the bench. Following an LSU timeout, the Tigers went on a 13-2 run — with key buckets from Mickey, Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey — that cut the lead to one with 10 minutes to play. The Tigers cut it to one two more times, but could not tie or take the lead.
Still, Mickey’s impressive debut, contributions from other players not named O’Bryant and Martin, and a narrow loss to a contender in the Atlantic 10 isn’t a bad way to start off the year if you’re the Tigers.
“It was a challenge,” Jones said. “That’s something that we needed and something we have the opportunity to grow from.”
LSU will look to do just that on Saturday against Northwestern State.