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.
Ben Simmons records double-double in first game for LSU
Ben Simmons, arguably the top player in the Class of 2015 and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, made his debut for LSU on Saturday in an 89-75 win over Newcastle All-Stars in the first game of LSU’s Australia trip.
Simmons led the Tigers with 22 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 37 minutes. LSU’s other heralded freshman, Antonio Blakeney, finished with 16 points. Rising senior guard Keith Hornsby added 17.
LSU trailed by 10 early in the second quarter. But the Tigers wrestled away the lead for good when Simmons converted on an old-school 3-point play with over three minutes to go in the second quarter. LSU ended the first half on a 12-4 run.
For Simmons, who spent the majority of the last year atop the Rivals Class of 2015 rankings, Saturday was a homecoming, playing at the Newcastle Basketball Stadium where his father, Dave Simmons, played professionally for the Newcastle Falcons in the late 1990s.
“It was amazing,” Simmons said after the game. “The last time I was here (at Newcastle Stadium) I was real young and I couldn’t dunk and do the things I do now. It’s really fun and it was great seeing familiar faces here. The people watching me stretch was crazy to me. It was a great feeling. An unbelievable experience.”
LSU has four more games before returning to Baton Rouge. The Tigers face the Sydney Kings on Sunday night in Sydney. Following Tuesday night’s game against the Queensland All-Stars in Auchenflower, LSU finishes the tour with back-to-back games against Melbourne United on Thursday and Saturday.
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.
1. Kyle Wiltjer (via Kentucky) and Byron Wesley (via USC), Gonzaga: Mark Few’s team still has questions to answer, mainly on the defensive end, but there’s no doubting that he’s added several transfers that make the Zags a top-10 caliber team. Wiltjer, the 2013 SEC Sixth Man of the Year, has had over a year to reshape his body. By the looks of last week’s viral video, his 3-point shot is still intact. Wesley, a graduate transfer who averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 rebounds per game in 2013-2014, gives the Bulldogs another weapon on the perimeter.
2. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State (via UNLV): The Mayor’s success with transfers in Ames is well-documented. Next in line could be fifth-year senior Bryce Dejean-Jones. Iowa State graduated a lot of its scoring pop, and Dejean-Jones can help in that department, although he doesn’t need to be the top scorer like he was last season at UNLV. Hoiberg will look for the 6-foot-6 newcomer to be a wing who creates his shot, not one who will force it, as Dejean-Jones shot selection has been a problem in the past.
3. Rodney Purvis, UConn (via N.C. State): The reigning national champions add a former McDonald’s All-American to its back court alongside Ryan Boatright. At 6-foot-4, Purvis will give the Huskies size on the perimeter; someone who is not only capable of getting to the rim, but also a reliable 3-point shooting, knocking down 38.5 percent of his threes at N.C. State.
4. Anthony Lee, Ohio State (via Temple): The graduate transfer was highly-sought after, but picked the Buckeyes, adding size, scoring and rebounding to their frontline. At Temple, he recorded 11 double-doubles en route to 13.6 points and and American Athletic Conference leading 8.6 boards per game.
5. Kedren Johnson, Memphis (via Vanderbilt): Memphis went from a back court of four seniors in 2013-2014 to a set of guards with zero Division I experience. That was until Johnson, the Vandy transfer, got a waiver to play immediately. In 2012-2013, the 6-foot-4 Johnson averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His experience on-the-ball should help the younger guards get adjust to the level of play.
6. Angel Rodriguez, Miami (via Kansas State): The Hurricanes new point guard took a year off to recover from a wrist injury and now is the key piece to a revamped perimeter for Miami, which includes fellow transfer Sheldon McClellan, four-star freshman JaQuan Newton and returners Deandre Burnett and Davon Reed. The former K-State floor general was second-team all-Big 12 in 2012-2013, averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game.
7. Trevor Lacey, N.C. State (via Alabama): T.J. Warren took his ACC Player of the Year honors and his 24.9 points per game to the NBA, leaving plenty of shots available for the the newcomer. The 6-foot-3 Lacey averaged 11.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a sophomore.
8. Katin Reinhardt, USC (via UNLV): After taking the second-most shots on UNLV as a freshman in 2012-2013, Reinhardt headed back to the state of California in hopes of being more than just a shooter. Despite his desires to have the ball in his hands, his biggest asset to Andy Enfield is his ability to hit from the outside. The Trojans were a Pac-12 worst 29 percent from beyond the arc last season.
9. Justin Martin, SMU (via Xavier): The 6-foot-6 wing is eligible immediately after graduating from Xavier. He posted 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, knocking down 50 3-pointers. He has also played in two NCAA tournaments, a place the Mustangs are looking to get back to for the first time since 1993.
10. Matt Carlino, Marquette (viaBYU): Steve Wojciechowski adds the former BYU guard to a back court that includes senior Derrick Wilson, potential breakout star Deonte Burton and redshirt freshman Duane Wilson. Carlino will see time on and off the ball, and will provide Marquette with a knockdown shooter.
13 MORE IMPACT TRANSFERS
Angelo Chol, San Diego State (via Arizona): Steve Fisher has had success with transfers in the past, and this season it could be Chol, the former Arizona Wildcat, who could never crack the loaded frontline.
*Cody Doolin, UNLV (via San Francisco): Dave Rice added a steady point guard (averaged 5.6 assists per game in 2012-2013) to a team that lost its starting five. Has been granted a fifth year of eligibility, but still waiting on a waiver to be allowed to play this season, although he is expected to receive it.
Justin Edwards, Kansas State (via Maine): Top scorer in the American East at 16.7 points per game in 2012-2013 could end up being a double-digit scorer for the Wildcats.
Byrn Forbes, Michigan State (via Cleveland State): Forbes will help combat the lose of Keith Appling and Gary Harris, averaging 15.6 points per game (42 percent from three) last season in the Horizon League.
Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State (via LSU): Hickey hopes the change of scenery can help return to sophomore averages of 11.2 points, 3.4 assists and 2.9 steals per game.
Jabarie Hinds, UMass (via West Virginia): With Chaz Williams graduating, the West Virginia transfer will be inserted into a back court with returning starter Derrick Gordon and key reserve Trey Davis in what could end up being a three-guard set for the Minutemen.
Keith Hornsby, LSU (via UNC Asheville): Matched up with JuCo transfer Josh Gray in the back court, Hornsby gives the Tigers size at 6-foot-4 and a 3-point threat.
Stanton Kidd (via North Carolina Central) and Antawn Scott (via Grambling) Colorado State : Outside of San Diego State, the rest of the Mountain West is wide-open. The addition of Kidd and Scott can help the Rams separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Jermaine Lawrence, Manhattan (via Cincinnati): The former five-star recruit is a big addition to a Manhattan team looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.
Antoine Mason, Auburn (via Niagara): Only national player of the year Doug McDermott scored more points than Mason (25.6 ppg) last season, as the former Niagara standout joins fellow transfers K.C. Ross-Miller and Cinmeon Bowers this season for the Tigers.
Ahmad Starks, Illinois (via Oregon State): Senior guard Tracy Abrams tearing his ACL made the addition of Starks and Seton Hall shooter Aaron Cosby all the more important. Starks will be asked to run the offense this season in his first and only year with the Illini.
*TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma (via Houston): The 6-foot-8 forward is still waiting on a waiver to play this season. Would make the Sooners a real threat in the Big 12.