Rob Gray Jr.

Associated Press

Defense, rebounding cost LSU in loss at Houston

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Having lost the biggest games on their non-conference schedule to date, LSU entered Sunday’s game at Houston in a position where they could ill-afford any more losses before the start of SEC play. But thanks to issues on the defensive end of the floor Johnny Jones’ team suffered its fourth loss of the season, falling 105-98 in overtime at Hoffheinz Pavilion.

Ben Simmons fouling out late in regulation did the Tigers no favors in the extra session, which came as a result of a Keith Hornsby three-pointer with nine seconds remaining in regulation. But when you defend and rebound at the level that LSU did Sunday night, it’s tough to win close games.

Houston shot 51.4 percent from the field and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, converting those opportunities into 20 second-chance points. The played who posed the biggest issue for LSU in this regard was junior forward Chicken Knowles, who accounted for 20 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with six of his boards coming on the offensive end.

Houston scored 50 points in the paint Sunday night, taking advantage of numerous defensive breakdowns in the process. Those points came from second-chance opportunities and dribble penetration, with guard Rob Gray Jr. hitting multiple floaters on his way to a career-high 31 points. That all isn’t on the shoulders of the LSU big men given Houston’s ability to get quality looks off the dribble, but the Tigers need more from the likes of Aaron Epps (12 points) and Elbert Robinson III as they combined for four rebounds in the game.

The addition of Arizona transfer Craig Victor will help LSU in the front court; besides Simmons they don’t have much in the way of consistent production on the glass in the paint (Epps and Robinson average a combined six rebounds per game). But the Tigers’ issues when it comes to their lack of attention to detail, which was once again evident against Houston, cannot be solved by the arrival of one player.

That’s going to be a collective effort, and to this point in the season LSU hasn’t shown the ability to do this against quality competition on a consistent basis.

The offense is there, and the return of Hornsby is a big deal for a team that had issues with perimeter shooting. Hornsby scored 32 points, shooting 6-for-10 from three with his teammates combining to shot 3-for-16 from deep. Simmons added 13 points, 14 rebounds and five assists before fouling out, and Quarterman accounted for 27 points, ten rebounds and six assists off the bench (disciplinary reasons).

For all the talk about Simmons’ individual gifts and how his game translates to the next level, there’s work to be done at the college level first. And if Simmons and his teammates are to have any shot at getting to the NCAA tournament, they have to straighten things out on the defensive end.