With Kentucky having established itself as the class of the SEC (if not the country) and Florida off to a slow start, it remains to be seen how the SEC will shake out in this final month before the start of conference play. One team looking to insert itself into the NCAA tournament bid conversation is LSU, and based upon talent alone there really isn’t a reason why LSU shouldn’t be in contention for an NCAA tournament bid come March.
However for a good portion of their game at No. 16 West Virginia on Thursday, LSU didn’t value the basketball in the manner fitting of an NCAA tournament team. Johnny Jones’ Tigers committed 24 turnovers, allowing the WVU pressure defense to get them going at a nearly chaotic tempo in the open floor. Add in a quiet night from Jordan Mickey, and most would assume that LSU was headed back to Baton Rouge with a loss.
However that would not be the case. Josh Gray’s driving layup with 7.4 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as LSU came back from 14 points down and handed the Mountaineers their first loss of the season by the final score of 74-73.
Both Gray and Keith Hornsby, two guards who began their college careers at other institutions, made plays down the stretch to give LSU a quality win for their resume. Hornsby was solid throughout, scoring 15 points and grabbing five rebounds, while Gray put forth a performance that wasn’t his best even with the game-winner. Gray scored seven points and dished out seven assists, but he also committed eight of LSU’s 24 turnovers.
Offensively Gray is a more impactful point guard for LSU than Anthony Hickey, now at Oklahoma State, was last season. But they can ill-afford to have him pressing the issue as he did on multiple occasions against West Virginia. Add in Jarell Martin’s (18 points, 14 rebounds) seven turnovers, and two players were responsible for 15 turnovers. West Virginia converted those turnovers into 25 points, but LSU managed to outscore West Virginia by 14 in the paint (36-22) and by ten on fast-break points (14-4).
It wasn’t pretty, especially with the turnovers and Jordan Mickey contributing just four points and six rebounds due in large part to foul trouble. But Johnny Jones’ team found a way to leave Morgantown with a win, and come March how the result looked won’t matter all that much when LSU’s resume is evaluated.