LSU’s season opener was an exercise in getting adjusted to league play. Tennessee dominated the Tigers 68-50 in holding them to 36.7% and out rebounding them 40-27. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon dominated the game inside for the Vols as Stokes had 15 points and 15 boards in outplaying LSU’s plethora of post talent in Johnny O’Bryant, Shavon Coleman, Jarell Martin, and Jordan Mickey. Mickey did have 14 points, but never could gain control over the Vols’ big men.
Coach Johnny Jones knew the entire Tigers squad was capable of more as they had started the season 9-2 before an upset loss at home against Rhode Island and the lackadaisical effort against physical Tennessee. He called a team meeting the day after the game and LSU responded with a convincing 71-68 road win at improving South Carolina.
“We thought the meeting was very productive gave guys an opportunity to sit and think about how important it was for us to play a certain way,” said Jones, “There wasn’t much we needed to do different, just understand the importance of the way to play.”
LSU stepped in a big way on Saturday as they heeded Jones’ call. He started Coleman and let Martin come off the bench. Martin responded in a profound way as he scored 18 points while accumulating six boards and five steals. Mickey and O’Bryant contributed as well with 13 points apiece.
“I am really proud of our two freshmen,” noted Jones of Martin and Mickey, “I thought both of them played extremely well. Jordan played as well as all season in being steady and I thought Jarell did an excellent job coming off the bench, knocking down shots, and defending, and played defense well.”
Martin spread his 18 points throughout the game in the 21 minutes he was on the floor. He and Mickey combined for 16 of the Tigers’ 18 points over the first 10 minutes of the second half to give LSU a 50-45 lead as their post play combined with that of O’Bryant to cause South Carolina match up problems in the pivot.
“I thought we did a great job of spreading the flooring and getting angles to the basket,” said Jones, “Unfortunately, we did not knock our free throws down. We shot 30-some percent from field. Our shots didn’t go, but I thought we made it up on the other end of the floor with hustle when we needed it.”
Martin, a 6-9, 241-pound Baton Rouge native, had no problem coming off the bench as he had struggled in the Tigers’ two previous losses by going a combined 4-of-10 from the floor with seven points and five rebounds in 23.5 mpg. in those two.
“Coach said he wanted to try something new,” said Martin, “I was with him. I just want to do what I can for the team. I was really relaxed and got real comfortable and started knocking down shots and getting to the free throw line.
Mickey had to settle into the game Saturday as well as he had 10 of his 13 points in the second half, including six in a row in the lane as the Tigers were able to take advantage of their athleticism against South Carolina’s posts.
“I had to slow down,” said Mickey, ” I was playing a little too fast for my team. I had a few turnovers and I had to slow down and play my game.”
Jones was pleased with the solid play of Martin, who had his best game to date for the Tigers. He has averaged 7.7 ppg. and 3.5 rpg. while averaging 21.5 mpg. in his initial year.
“Jarell has had a really solid year for us,” said Jones, “I have had the opportunity to watch him in practice and watch him perform and he’s had some set backs because of injuries, so when he has been available and able to go forward, he’s made some real positive plays.”
The depth in the post has allowed Jones to run lots of high-low options with his big men as they are polished enough to add to their arsenals. O’Bryant, who leads LSU in scoring and rebounding, had a couple of quick fouls early which forced Jones to call on Martin immediately and he responded.
“It is really satisfying- the play of guys around him,” Jones commented, “When we did run the offense and ran things through him, he made right decisions – good passes inside, dump down passes, and was able to gap dribble and kick out, and we knocked down threes. I thought he had some good one-on-one pops inside, but he didn’t finish those and he did knock his free throws down.”
As Malik Martin and Shavon Coleman picked up the starts, they figured in the game early as they were able to set the tone with their defense and disrupt South Carolina’s positioning on offense. Jones was concerned about the offensive fire power of the Gamecocks, who had won five out of seven, including a convincing win over St. Mary’s in the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas.